Show MO(re) Folk: Mask Makers of Missouri
We at MO Folk Arts are using the Show Me Folk blog, in these unusual times, to shine a bit more light on the state’s folk and traditional artists, particularly those who have had shifted their focus a bit, or a lot, due to the world’s collective efforts to “flatten the curve.” We are often reminded that folk arts and folklife are not static, but dynamic and innovative. Tradition bearers prove that time and time again, especially in adversity.
With these posts, we hope our readers find the time to visit the websites and social media of featured artists. Perhaps, readers will be moved to make positive comments, purchases, reviews, or recommendations.
Thanks for turning your attention to Show MO(re) Folk. Look for hyperlinks below that take you to videos, websites, and social media profiles. Click on photo galleries for larger images.
Mask Makers of Missouri
As our collective understanding of the COVID-19 epidemic grew over the last few weeks (and even days), the production of handmade protective masks has grown exponentially. We may live in a folk bubble, but our social media feeds are FULL of photos and stories of quilters, crafters, and tailors who have turned their attention from stitching squares, dresses, and totes to making masks. These artists have delved into deep research to find the best fits, materials, and designs to slow and prevent transmission of the virus. Wake Forest Baptist Health saw fit to sponsor a very recent and timely study of the materials used in handmade masks. Patterns abound on the web and are passed on from artist to artist via links and posts. Some mask makers work solo; some work in teams; and all work for the common good of family, friends, strangers, and essential workers in many sectors.
And, like any true traditional art, the handmade masks have a form or shape that is recognizable, but the variations! Wow. Quilters are raiding their fabric stashes (and we know that those cabinets are deep). Other sewers (sewists?) have met the recent dearth of elastic by making ties from scratch. Need some wire to get a custom fit over the bridge of the nose? Bread bag ties, florist wire, and pipe cleaners work in a pinch, so to speak. It’s no surprise that the Missouri Star Quilt Company in Hamilton [a key partner in Missouri’s Bicentennial Quilt] has posted how-to videos on its website. While we can’t share all the masks we’ve seen, we can share a few from some of our favorite Show Me Folk.
Patti Tappel, perhaps better known as the Osage Bluff Quilter and Blogger, is sheltering in place with her favorite Osage Bluff Blacksmith in Cole County. The blacksmith is a previous Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program master artist. Over the years, we have always found that visiting the Tappels is a two-fer: we get to see the latest blacksmithing projects out in the workshop, and inside the house, Patti is working on her latest quilt (or quilts or quilt charms). She’s particularly adept at paper-piecing and has an extraordinary collection of vintage sewing machines. This “retired” artistic team is always working on a fun project or five–tending their gardens, canning what they grow and catch, meeting with the Blacksmiths Association of Missouri. It was no surprise to see Patti’s recent social media posts. She put her sewing machines to good use, turning out customized masks for family members to wear for essential work and tasks: the Chiefs fan; the hunters; a coffee lover; the fashionista; and a whiskey . . . connoisseur.
Andrea O’Brien can be found online with her husband at The Splintered Spool. Visiting folklorist Thomas Grant Richardson introduced us to the Adair County couple during a Show Me Folk regional survey through a dozen north central Missouri counties. Andrea is the quilter, and John is the woodworker; they team up on projects often. Thomas met her through the Hands of Friendship Quilt Guild, and we’ve been following both The Splintered Spool and the Guild for two years now, hoping to find opportunities to partner. Andrea is one of the most prolific mask makers we’ve observed; she credits the power of teamwork. Andrea and more than fifteen sewers (including two friends, some Girls Scouts, and an 11-year-old) have partnered to streamline production. By joining forces, the team also has received “donations of high quality hospital grade fabric to use for the liners to make them more protective.” Combined with the quilters’ donated fabric and time, Andrea and friends have gifted dozens of masks, keeping track of the requests, materials, and deliveries in a Google spreadsheet.
Barb Bailey, a Best of Missouri Hands juried artist, runs the Painted Wren Art Gallery in Cape Girardeau County. We met Barb via our alliance with the Missouri 2021 Bicentennial, as she and Aaron Horrell travel the state with the Missouri Bicentennial Paint for a Cause mural project, which invites anyone and everyone to add a bit of paint to what will ultimately be a 12′ x 30′ mural. We often notice the beautiful and fun art that Barb turns out, posted on Facebook and Instagram, so we couldn’t help but notice that she’s basically paused and turned her studio into a production line. Every day, she posts an update, tallying up a new batch and adding to the grand total. As of April 8, 2020, Barb had stitched up 200 masks, but she’s not finished. She has paused, though, in order to make bias tape from scratch to use for ties. Bias tape ties (and other innovations) are now a necessity, mask makers will tell you, as elastic has disappeared from store shelves (not due to hoarding!).
These are but a few mask makers in Missouri, or beyond. We know folklorists in other states who are sewing, a favorite 16-year-old in Columbia, Mo. who is making for friends and local nursing home staff, and a growing number of innovators and manufacturers turning their attention to the task. We admire them all, and thank them for their service great and small.
Published April 8, 2020