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These face masks are the hottest thing at the museum shop

The "Owl Fan" mask can be purchased at Peabody Essex Museum.Courtesy Peabody Essex

We’re in this for the long haul, baby. It’s time to up your mask game.

And the Peabody Essex Museum offers dozens of great masks, most of them works of art — literally.

“When I was trying to describe it to vendors, I said, ‘You need to go home and look at your sock drawer — that’s how many makes you’re going to need,” said Director of Merchandising Victor Oliveira in a recent phone interview. “Because you’re going to want to match them to your clothes at some point, and you’re going to want to wash them.

”Masks are a way to protect yourself, but also to express yourself,” he continued. “It’s a great way for people to project their love for culture and art.”


Their “PEM Collection Masks” are stunners bearing details from pieces housed in the permanent collection.

Highlights include “Owl Fan” — with an owl’s wings splayed full, its eyes burning gold, inspired by a wood-and-cotton fan in the museum’s collection.

Then there’s “Illustrations of a Thousand Shells,” a mask colored with rich corals, earth tones, creams from Hirase Yoichiro’s (1859-1925) illustration on paper.

Floral Kimono” features a slice of color from an early Meiji-era Japanese kimono of blue silk crepe, printed and embroidered with patterns of flowers, trees, and landscape.

The "Floral Kimono" mask features detail from an early Meiji-era kimono in the museum's collection.Courtesy Peabody Essex Museum

Salem Common on Training Day” boasts a strong line of deep green trees and bustling action, a detail from George Ropes Jr.‘s 1808 oil on canvas.

Meanwhile, they also sell playful masks from Carla Fernández, who “works at the forefront of ethical fashion, documenting and preserving the rich textile heritage of Mexico’s indigenous communities,” according to the museum. That includes the “Azul” mask with its bright blue face, red lips, purple cheeks, and painted nose. Also on tap is “Jaguar” — a bright yellow mask with black spots, painted fangs, and red tongue. Both are currently available for pre-order.


The "Azul" mask by Mexican fashion designer Carla Fernández.Courtesy Peabody Essex

Fernandez’s work will also be featured in PEM’s “Made It: The Women Who Revolutionized Fashion,” opening in November. So she’s busy creating a new set of masks, specifically for PEM, timed for that show.

As for their own “PEM Collection” line, museum employees got the idea “about three months ago, when we saw there was a need,” Oliveira said. “Then the hunt was on for the right kind: masks that did justice to the art, but also protected people.”

As far as selecting the actual art? The hardest part was self-control.

”I could make masks all day,” said Oliveira with a laugh.

”We want this to be a great program that shows aspects of our collection,” Oliveira said. Click on any mask via the museum’s online shop, and you can see both the mask and an image of the original artwork.

The "Yacht Race in Boston Harbor" mask borrows its imagery from a painting by James Edward Buttersworth.Courtesy Peabody Essex Museum

PEM’s mask collection launched July 28. The first batch sold out within 36 hours, Oliveira said. And the first to go were “Owl Fan” and “Yacht Race In Boston Harbor,” the latter featuring a detail from a James Edward Buttersworth oil on canvas, painted around 1800.

With the success of “Boston Harbor,” the museum just unveiled a new seascape mask: “The Great Sea Serpent,” featuring a detail from a mid-1800s colored lithograph.

”This won’t stop any time soon,” Oliveira promised of PEM’s burgeoning mask collection. His team is reaching out to artists about collaboration. They keep combing the archives for imagery.


”Our hope is we all go back to normal,” Oliveira added. But he, at least, will keep carrying masks for cold and flu seasons even after there’s a coronavirus vaccine. He currently favors the Boston Harbor and Praya Grande Table designs.

”And I can’t wait for the sea monster,” he said just before the mask became available for purchase. “That will be my go-to when it comes in.”

"The Great Sea Serpent" is based on a colored lithograph from the mid-1800s.Courtesy Peabody Essex Museum


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Lauren Daley can be reached at She tweets @laurendaley1.

Lauren Daley can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @laurendaley1.