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Monday, Jan. 15, 2018

It's All About the Masks

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Who hasn’t dreamed of slipping away to a land of enchantment where no one knows who you are, and you can take on a mysterious persona?

The reason masks are so popular during the Mardi Gras season is because the one wearing them can become another person during that time, taking on another personality and hiding behind that facial cloak of mystery.

But not just any old mask will do, if you want yours to be a look that is yours alone that belongs to no one else. Not surprisingly, to find that one-of-a-kind design may require a trip to The Enchanted Garden, 2429 Line Ave. in Shreveport, where owner Deb Beckman Cockrell will be happy to show you a huge display of her brother Dennis Beckman’s unique and now-famous hand-made masks.

“Dennis has been living here and creating masks, and people have been coming from everywhere to buy his masks. … We just had someone from Chicago come in and pick up seven masks for a Mardi Gras party for up there,” Cockrell said.

Beckman still has a residence in San Francisco, where for 42 years he has owned a shop called The Enchanted Crystal.

“That’s why I named mine The Enchanted Garden,” Cockrell said. “He started his years before I did – we are celebrating our 38th year at The Enchanted Garden – but I wanted people to be able to relate us to each other, and it’s amazing how many people from San Francisco came to my shop and Shreveporters go to San Francisco and discover his shop.”

But now, she said, her brother is in Shreveport, transforming her shop into a beautiful scene for Mardi Gras.

Although Beckman was born in Lafayette, Cockrell was born in Shreveport, and both were educated in the state and are longtime residents of the area. Beckman has degrees in horticulture and landscape architecture.

You could say Beckman has gone from decorating the outdoors to decorating the indoors as well as decorating people.

“He designed parks in Nevada and Hawaii and worked for the Army,” Cockrell said of her brother. “He’s always been creative. His shop won international awards for amazing windows.”

Cockrell said her brother has a keen eye for seeing what looks good on a person. “Masks are a very individual thing,” she said. “You can’t buy a mask online if you’re going to wear it. It has to fit your face. Where the eyes go … the shape of your face.”

Beckman claims if two women try the same mask, it will look different on each woman.

“Their eyes look totally different in every mask, according to the color, the shape of the eyes, the jewels around them, things like that,” he said.

When Beckman is custom-making a mask, he has the person try on different styles. Then, he will work with the customer to determine how elaborate they want their mask.

There are nine rooms at The Enchanted Garden, and Cockrell has designated the Louisiana Room for her brother’s masks. A customer may see a mask there they want to buy, or as they are choosing materials for a custom mask, they may ask Beckman about feathers or jewels on a particular mask.

“I have literally thousands of different components I use,” he said. “I have every color of feather in every size. I’ve got drawers and drawers of gorgeous jewels I incorporate, and gorgeous glitter components, and so, I have them try on what makes their eyes pop out.”

If wearing a mask isn’t your thing, feel free to purchase a mask to use for decoration.

“Some people have whole mask collections,” Beckman said.

Beckman’s masks are for women and men. Most seem exotic; all are colorful. Some of those for men have horns; however, “none of my masks are scary,” Beckman pointed out.

As ideas form, it may take up to a month for a mask to be completed. But it will be one of a kind.

“I hesitate to say how long,” he said.

“Sometimes, I will add to one if I look at it and decide it needs more.”

Beckman returns to San Francisco a couple of times a year, where he made bridal headpieces for 35 years.

“In my travels in Paris, I found beautiful antique flowers, and I used them to display the jewelry in my shop and women wanted to have them added to the headpieces,” he said.

During that time, Beckman created an elaborate headpiece for a celebrity bride who wanted to take it a step further.

“She said, ‘I would love to walk down the aisle with all the guests with a mask on that matches my headpiece,’” he said. “So I made her a really elaborate mask to wear with her headpiece, and other people saw it and it started from there.”

And since San Francisco loves a good masquerade party, it was a natural progression for Beckman to move into the custom mask business.

Beckman’s masks will be an ongoing display at The Enchanted Garden. In addition to The Louisiana Room, he said he just finished setting up a display at the entrance to the shop.

“This is a whole fantasy,” Beckman said of his sister’s shop. “You just must come.”

Although he returns to San Francisco occasionally, Beckman loves Shreveport.

“Coming back after being gone 48 years, I love experiencing Shreveport and Shreveporters,” he said. “I just love being here.”


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