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VISUAL ART

Where the masks are ‘art objects you can also wear’

Linda Dolack's "Lifesavers Mask."
Linda Dolack's "Lifesavers Mask."Linda Dolack

Masks are the new, required adornment, and Mobilia Gallery, the longtime Cambridge craft gallery owned by sisters Libby and Jo Anne Cooper, is on the job. Their ongoing online exhibition “Ornamentation in the Age of Corona: Masks” kicked off in May.

“Here we were at home, wondering: What can we do that might be meaningful?” said Libby Cooper. “How about asking artists to make masks? We weren’t sure the artists would like the idea. It can be scary, if people know people who were sick.”

Mobilia is donating a percentage of the sales to the Massachusetts COVID-19 Relief Fund. Many of the participating artists have donated proceeds from their first mask to the cause. Last week the Coopers sent the fund more than $3,000.

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The sisters got started by sending a prospectus to artists on Mobilia’s roster. “Some were jewelers and had never worked with textiles. Others were textile artists. Some had access to studios, some were at home,” Cooper said. “A lot of the masks are hand-stitched because the artist didn’t have access to a sewing machine. There are different ear loop materials, because that was all they had in their homes. One is a shoe-string tie.”

Cindy Hickok's mask adaptation of "The Scream."
Cindy Hickok's mask adaptation of "The Scream." Cindy Hickok

The masks are not only fashion accessories. They are sculptural objects. “Some people who purchased them bought them to hang,” Cooper said. “They’re art objects you can also wear. Hopefully, it will cheer people up.”

The ever-growing selection, on view at Mobilia’s design store site (www.store.mobilia-gallery.com), features fashionable, whimsical, and arresting masks ranging from $150-$650. One artist, Cindy Hickok, printed an image of the coronavirus molecule beside the horrified figure from Edvard Munch’s “The Scream.” Linda Dolack made a rainbow-striped mask with the Lifesavers candy logo. Japanese jewelry artist Momoko Kumai designed simple, elegantly colored masks with removable earrings on the ear loops.

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Gloucester artist Lynne Sausele, a metalsmith and painter who specializes in beaded work for Mobilia, was excited by the invitation.

“Libby and JoAnne put out a call,” Sausele said, “and we prepare ideas. I’ve done that many times. They are so creative themselves, and they make me create myself anew.”

She had never before made a mask. “I thought: I have this great fabric I bought in Paris maybe five years ago. I’ll try beading on top of it. I didn’t want to sew the mask — I’m not a sewing machine person. A friend did the stitching and I did all the embellishment.”

Lynne Sausele's "Sequin Mask."
Lynne Sausele's "Sequin Mask."Lynne Sausele

Sausele and her friend made a few, then the artist mastered the sewing and has made several on her own. The Coopers shipped her some vintage velveteen. Her statement fashion masks grab the eye, glowing with tropical colors such as aqua, fuchsia, and green and sparkling with sequins and glass beads.

Gerri Rachins, a Boston painter who teaches at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University, made a fearsome mask with buffalo teeth, feathers, and beads she had stowed away in old cigar boxes.

“There’s something about the ritual of putting a mask on that makes me want to add protection,” Rachins said from her summer home on Cape Cod. She stitched the mask with red and black.

“I wanted to use red thread — it would stand out — to attach the buffalo teeth, this strong animal,” Rachins said. “And black thread, also a powerful color. It can represent death. And jet-black feathers I use because of the color. They’re almost poking out like spikes.”

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Gerri Rachins's "Mask to Ward off Evil Spirits."
Gerri Rachins's "Mask to Ward off Evil Spirits."Gerri Rachins

“It’s not a friendly thing,” she added. “I thought of the coronavirus: ‘Go away.’ ”

Rachins made three masks before she began to run out of materials. Her masks are more sculptural than wearable. Sausele, though, sees masks as a new horizon in style.

“As embellishment and decoration, it’s a new thing,” she said. “As a woman, to have your outfit work … you want to feel comfortable in the mask and have it be a little entertaining for people.”

Libby Cooper said “Ornamentation in the Age of Corona: Masks” will continue as long as there’s interest. Given the uncertainty of the virus, that may be a long time.

“One client in Chicago told us, ‘If I’m going to wear masks,’ ” Cooper said, “I might as well do it with as much style as possible.‘ ”

ORNAMENTATION IN THE AGE OF CORONA: MASKS

www.mobilia-gallery.com


Cate McQuaid can be reached at catemcquaid@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @cmcq.