Qualities that make Peter Minshall a renowned mas' man By Stephen Choo Quan


Peter Minshall is one of our country’s foremost authorities in mas'. He has literally had the world of experience, and still remains a very loyal and patriotic figure. His approach to mas' has not always been in keeping with tradition, but that is what sets him apart and gives him his status as a pioneer. Over the years, he has encountered frequent criticism and disapproval, but still, he remains determined to realize his dream of combining Carnival with Theatre. He has had a very impressive track record in both arenas. Despite his overwhelming success and contribution to Carnival, he still remains unrecognized as a national hero


Peter Minshall was born in 1941 in Georgetown, Guyana, to a native mother and an English father. A few years later, the Minshalls migrated to Trinidad, where his mother, Jean Grant, became the Social Editor for the local Guardian Newspaper, His father, Wilson Minshall, was gainfully employed as a cartoonist and painter. Minshall enrolled as a student of Q.R..C. (Queen's Royal College) in Port-Of-Spain. It was here that he became fascinated by theatre and began devouring Shakespearean plays. While at Q.R.C., the thirteen-year old designed, made and wore a costume called 'The African Witch Doctor’. This he decorated with bones saved by the family dog, old cardboard boxes, and dried leaves. Minshall's creation won first prize for originality at Aunty Kay's Children Carnival Competition.

In 1959, at eighteen years of age, Minshall went abroad seeking to extend his knowledge. He was admitted to London's Central School of Art and Design, where he spent the next few years studying Theatre Design. He graduated in 1966, being the only student that year to attain honors in the said field. He then served his apprenticeship designing for regional theatres in Britain, Three years later, he was given an award in recognition of his achievements. His work was both extensive and eclectic, varying in set and costume designs for the following productions : Sadler Well's Beauty And The Beast; Sheridan's She Stoops To Conquer; Deryck Walcott' s The Charlatan; Verdi's Rigoletto; Brechf 8 The Caucasian Chalk Circle? Moliere's 8gnarelle; and Shakespeare's Richard III. The Tempest, and Othello. 1 Minshall's pieces were of such high caliber that they were sought by museums and art galleries. The set design for Beauty And The Beast was so impressive, that the British Council appended the entire set of sketches to its permanent collection.

Minshall was gradually getting involved with West Indian productions in London. His work with Beryl Me Bernie witnessed the advent, of costumes in the Notting Hill Carnival, Which was previously nothing more than a non-uniform parade. He imposed his style on the event by bringing out four bands and raking a clean sweep of the prizes. The next few years saw Minshall traveling between Trinidad. Britain and The United States. In Trinidad, 1974, he made his debut in the local Carnival circle with his production of 'From The Land Of The Humming Bird’. This costume went on to win 'Queen of the year-’ despite its being intended for the Junior Carnival Queen Competition. Two years later, he returned home from England, having accepted an invitation to design Stephen Lee Heung's band ‘Paradise Lost’. Minshall's work earned Lee Heung ‘Band of the Century’ and his king won 'King Of The Year’ . Minshall soon went to The United States, where he took up an offer as Assistant Professor of Drama at Dartmouth College. Here, he designed sets and costumes for Aristophane'' s The Bird’s; Fredrico Garcia Lorca' s Blood Wedding and La Casa De Bernarda Alba.

In 1977, on a visit here, Minshall decided to design a band for the following yearns Carnival. 'Zodiac' exemplified his revolutionary design techniques, winning ‘Best Design'' that year. In 1979, he produced '"Carnival Of The Sea” His band made a remarkable impression, winning 'Band Of The Year'. 'People's Choicer ‘King Of The Year' and 'Queen Of The Year7. This was a feat not achieved since 1973.


Band Name

Distinctive Features


Paradise Lost

Band of the Year King of the Year



Best Design award.


Carnival of the Sea

Band of the Year, King and Queen of the Year People's Choice.


Danse Macabre

King and Queen of the Year.


Jungle Fever

People'a Choice.



People's Choice King and Queen of the Year.



People's Choice King of the Year.



King and Queen of the Year.


The Golden Calabash


Rat Race

Fourth in Band of the Year.


Carnival is Color

Band of the. Year King of the Year.





King of the Year.



Queen of the Year.

North King of the Year.


No band produced.

There was an exhibition of

theatre design, Minshall - The

Early Years- 1960-1980. He had

on show 127 pieces from the

last 20 years.


Barcelona, P.O.S.

Third in Band of the Year.


Honeymoon wa5 canceled.

Due to the timing of the Summer Olympics there was not enough time to produce the desired

band effects.



Second in Downtown Carnival Competition


Hallelujah Band of the Year.


There is much that remains unmentioned in the previous discussion due to the sheer vastness of Minshall’s accomplishments and experience. Still, however, this summary biography is itself very impressive. Minshall, the mas' man, is a combination of his vision, originality, perfection, conviction and cultural consciousness. Lets look at each one of these qualities.

VISION ‘A Mental view or image whether of supernatural origin or mere imaginativeness of what is not actually present in place or time." "The act or power of perceiving what it not actually present to the eye, whether by some supernatural endowment or by natural intellectual acuteness."

At age eighteen, when Minshall left for London, he was mindless of the value of Trinidad and Tobago's Carnival. It was only during his studies abroad that he realized a distinct similarity between Carnival and Theatre. With the former, he saw the onlookers as the audience and the participants as the performers. His concept of ‘theatre-mas' was then conceived. This concept signified the beginning of an era that would change the face of Carnival, as it was known. ‘I am papa raas' , the dreamer of the first dream."2 Minshall saw mas' as more than simply donning a costume and having a good time. Mas’ was a medium of artistic expression in the society and had the capacity to convey the profoundest thoughts and feelings. Minshall believed that mas' was about movement- and the ability to combine visual beauty with liquid, graceful movement, producing a costume waiting to be given life by the masquerader. He referred to his costumes as sculptures; more in keeping with their artistic flavor. Together and in unison these masqueraders brought Minshall’s dream to theatrical reality. His work seeks to imbue art with energy. ORIGINALITY: "A primary form or type from which varieties are derived." "Belonging or pertaining to the origin or beginning of something." "Arising or proceeding from a thing itself." Minshall's originality owes itself in part to his eclectic ability. Armed with this, and his vast and varied exposure, he set a course for a new artistic frontier. He focused on two main targets. Firstly. he sought to implement a strong element of Theatre in his work. Secondly he would incorporate the most daring elements of experimental art in his structures and designs.

Minshall's use of non-traditional materials made his mas' truly unique. As quoted from Stephen Lee Heung, "Peter used plastic, cane and aluminium to get the stunning effect of Paradise Lost' . There is no doubt that he has transformed Carnival and brought it to a new era."3 In fact, the costumes carried by many of today's Kings are derivatives of Minshall's original ideas. For example, he introduced the use of back packs to reduce, if not eliminate. the need for wheels; a technique now commonplace. Minshall saw mas' as both an art and a science. He evolved a philosophy based on the aesthetic and technological forms drawn from traditional Carnival characters such as Bats, Dragons, Indians and Imps. He even wrote a thesis describing mas' as a kinetic art. He applied his theory of motion to the design of 'From The Land Of The Humming Bird' . This necessitated a study of the wing movements of the traditional Carnival Bat. By selectively combining these techniques with elements from his other studies and experiences, he produced the 'Queen Of The Year' . His sheer genius enabled him to exceed the benchmarks set by traditional mas' men taking Carnival to another level.

PERFECTION "She highest degree of proficiency, as in some art." “A perfect embodiment of something." Minshall's name should be synonymous with detail. Once a theme has been chosen, he becomes a stickler for accuracy* He conducts extensive research on his topic, thus gaining a comprehensive insight of all necessary details. Once this has been accomplished, he sets about trying to depict this theme through his art. He places great emphasis on the structure of his sculptures, as he calls them. He is a firm believer of his own saying, "Structure before decoration".

When he sends something to be made, anything less than perfect, guarantees its return to be done over. These high and uncompromising standards are what allow him tc consistently produce work of outstanding quality. Proof of Minshall' s reputation for the above can be found in his appointment at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992 to choreograph the opening and closing ceremonies. He has also been invited to similarly contribute to the Atlanta Olympics in 1996. All of these facts are indicative of the man's pursuit of perfection.

CONVICTION 'A fixed or firm belief' Minshall has proven over the years that he stands strong by his convictions unyielding and refusing to change. He seems unshaken by the differing opinions hovering around him. Throughout the years he has encountered much opposition and caused many a controversy. Carnival 1995 is an appropriate example of this, Minshall's band 'Hallelujah' received strong criticism from some of our religious sectors. They considered the use of the word 'Hallelujah', to represent a Carnival band, offensive. Minshall made his own evaluations, and decided against changing the name, despite the public's outrage.

Another example of Minshail' s determination to stand firm, examines his 1988 band, 'Jumbie' . Again, there was public outrage this time concerning his costumes. Many argued that his costumes revealed too much flesh and were too skimpy. Minshall considered his work to be art, and not a display of nakedness, thus refusing to change his designs. Minshall has built up the reputation for forging on amidst the greatest of criticisms and objections.

CULTURAL CONSCIOUSNESS "Inward sensibility of one's culture."

Over his life's travels. Minshall has been exposed to many different cultures. This gives him the ability to appreciate and identify the very essence of Trinidadian and Tobagonian culture which so many of us take for granted. He deplored the increasing commercialization of Carnival and the dependence of many designers on "tinsel and glitter’. The vital traditional characters of mas’ such as 'The Midnight Robber' and ‘Jab Jab' were being ignored in favor of the more Las Vegas-style costuming.

Minshall, himself, tries to capture some element of our culture in his mas' . Through the years, his themes have included 'Callaloo', "The Golden Calabash' 'Jumbie', 'Rat Race' , ''River', and 'Santimanitay' . He teaches us to be proud of our culture by his own example. This was said of him,

"Minshall must be one of the most extraordinary dramatics and gifted personalities this country has produced in recent times. With the combination of powerful vision, lucid exposition, many-sided creativity, brilliant theatricality and immense charm, he cannot help but draw followers and convert his isovsanent to breajc the boundaries of mas'."4


Before you read this you should know that TriniJungleJuice did this piece in 1995 so this is really a journey down memory lane for us.

[1] It is factual when I say that the world looks to Trinidad and Tobago when they wish to see true Carnival. Nowhere else is Carnival so large-scaled. If we intend to remain at the pinnacle then we cannot remain stagnant in our ways of thinking. We need to develop Carnival into a spectacular festival of the Arts. We should be inviting to our shores, intellectuals and artists interested in seeing 'The Greatest Show On Earth' . At the same time, we must be careful not to compromise our culture for commercialization. We need to preserve the very essence of what makes us a unique island. Not only must we know that our culture is beautiful, we must also learn to say it. I guess this is why we say TriniJungleJuice.com with pride and when we read the guest book we see the reflection of that pride, our caribbean society, our history, our portrail to the world.

[2] Too many of our mas' men have forsaken the 'real mas' for 'tinsel and glitter' . This overcommercialization of our Carnival is destroying its fabric. The nakedness and absence of creativity are degrading what was once something to be proud of. Surely there must be a possible compromise between the skimpy costumes and their very artistically influenced counterparts. The Carnival Development Committee should take steps to preserve an element of our original Carnival. For Instance, special prizes could be offered to encourage mas' men to revert to the old school of thought. Can you now put into perspective the direction and effort of Tibe in this 2007 presentation of "Ole time something come back again"

[3] We need to make people like Peter Minshall feel appreciated. Instead of downcrying his work, we should be fully supportive of the man who did us proud at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992 and World Cup U.S.A in 1994. He is one of the very few people who manage to export our culture without compromising it. He should be considered a national hero. In doing this we would be encouraging more of our young talent to develop their skills here, and not abroad. Now I wrote this in 1995 so it is interesting and fantastic to see how the future has shaped up when Peter Minshall was awarded the Trinity Cross in 1996 for art and Culture. The Trinity Cross (abbreviated T.C.) is the highest national award in Trinidad and Tobago. It is awarded for: distinguished and outstanding service to Trinidad and Tobago. It is awarded for gallantry in the face of the enemy, or for gallant conduct. Either nationals or non-nationals can be awarded the honour, but no more than five may be awarded in any year.

1 Sharmin Himraj: 'Minshall: The Mas' man'(Caribbean Studies Project, U.W.I St. Augustine;1992)

2''Juteran, Gillian: "Cultural Controversy in Trinidad and Tobago Carnival.'(Caribbean Studies Project, U.W.I St. Augustine;1989)

3 Himraj, Sharrain:'Minshall:The man and his mas''(Caribbean Studies Project, U.W.I St. Augustine;1992)

4 Rambachan, Niaila:"Minshall:The man and his mas'.' Express Newspaper Limited;1991


[1] Minshall, Peter: "Culture: where are we heading*(Open lecture series U.W.I St. Augustine, Trinidad and Tobago);!985 . [2] Hill, Errol "The Trinidad Carnival:Mandate for a National Theatre *(Austin and London) University Press; 1972 [3] Lewis, J Newel "Trinidad Carnival:Nobody in his right- mind Scope Publications; 1974 [4] Himraj, Sharmin '"Min shall; The Mas* man.'(Caribbean Studies Project, U.W.I St. Augustine; 1992) [5] Minshall, Peter"The use of traditional figures in Carnival art.' Paper presented to the first National Conference on the Performing Arts U.W.I St. Augustine; 1985. [6] Smith, Keith: 'Minshall; The man and his mas* ' Trinidad Express Newspaper Limited; 1991 [7] Healy Catherine: Playing Mas with Minshall" in Americas Vol 38; No.3.


NAME: Todd Gulick DATE: April 15, 1995 TIME: 2:30 pm


Trini Jungle Juice has also been doing global research to see how our Minshall compares to other great legacies in the world. We have to admit that Barcelona' s Antoni Gaudí shares a lot in common. Just like Minshall used bones of his dog to architect his costume Gaudi was one is Spain's visionary Architects. Gaudí, throughout his life, was fascinated by nature. He studied nature's angles and curves and incorporated them into his designs. Instead of relying on geometric shapes, he mimicked the way trees and humans grow and stand upright. The hyperboloids and paraboloids he borrowed from nature were easily reinforced by steel rods and allowed his designs to resemble elements from the environment.

"Who knows if we have given this diploma to a nut or to a genius. Time will tell."