Artist Gives Dylan's Death Mask to Thomas Festival; LITERATURE: Celebration of Poet's Life Opens

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NEW York sculptor David Slivka, who cast the death mask of Dylan Thomas, will tonight open a festival in Wales to celebrate the writer's life and work.

And Slivka will present Swansea with a bronze cast of the mask as well as talking about his memories of the poet during the launch of the Dylan Thomas Celebration.

The sculptor was born on the same day as Thomas - October 27, 1914 - and their paths crossed on Thomas's reading tours of the US in the 1950s.

Following the poet's death in November 1953, Slivka, who is 87 today, took an impression of the author's face, which he later used in sculpting the poet's head.

It is Slivka's first visit to the Dylan Thomas Centre and literature officer David Woolley said that they were delighted to be receiving the death mask.

"He has only produced a handful of them, " said Mr Woolley. "He has been asked by people if he will make more but he has always resisted and only makes them for establishments he thinks really should have them. He insists this is the last one he will do."

The death mask will go on display at the centre in the New Year as the focal point of its new interactive exhibition.

Tonight's speech by Slivka, which is for invited guests only, will be followed by the annual dinner of the Dylan Thomas Society of Great Britain.

The sculptor will also be in conversation at the venue on Monday with Jeff Towns.

Conservative MP Ann Widdecombe - who is currently championing the novels of Pamela Hansford-Johnson, Thomas's first serious girlfriend - will also be attending the two-week festival, which is based at the Dylan Thomas Centre, although some events will be staged at other venues in the city.

Among the other highlights will be an appearance by Les Murray, one of the world's most acclaimed living poets, the showcasing of a long-lost film narrated by Thomas and performances by music legend Robin Williamson and poet Martin Newell.

Copies of a tape of a private reading by Thomas, which took place in America in 1952, will be sold during the festival. …