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Turning Creative Energy to Mask-Making

Mask by artist Haifa Bint-Kadi (photo courtesy of the artist)

     In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, a community of creatives throughout Westchester – seamstresses, tailors and artists – are focused on the most important cause at hand: quelling the spread of the virus. After concerns about the availability of personal protective equipment (PPE) for health care workers, cloth masks were being worn over the required N95 masks as a way of managing the supply and prolonging the efficacy of the N95s. So artists and makers rallied. 

     Armed with sewing machines and bolts of fabric, they began to stitch. Liz Maryland Poling-Hiraldo, Jayne Grant and Khamla Erskine are founding members of Croton Face Mask Makers, a grassroots collective of some 500 volunteers who have focused their energies on making masks and scrub caps for front line workers. They use a Facebook Group to share patterns and tips, and to coordinate mask donations. In their first month of collaboration, they prepared 6,502 masks to donate to dozens of facilities in the Hudson Valley and Connecticut. To keep up the momentum, they are welcoming all volunteers to join the fight. 

There is no shortage of similar stories of art-fueled generosity from across the region. Jennifer Hoertz of Brewster, NY, an expert milliner who is usually readying for Derby season, also turned to mask-making to protect friends and family. She has donated more than 150 masks to workers in the United States and Puerto Rico. 

Kiersten Rose Fiorio

 ArtsWestchester teaching artist Haifa Bint-Kadi of Yonkers began exploring what made N95 masks so effective. With this knowledge, and in addition to her guided meditative art workshops on Zoom, Bint-Kadi went to work converting HVAC filters into her own colorful masks. She explains: “Part of the art-making process is always research. Throughout my life, I have found these skills to be transferrable, even in the midst of a pandemic.”

     Liza Fuller was a long-time employee of the New York design company Homenature which, like so many businesses, was forced to reduce staffing and close their brick and mortar stores. Recently, and before the virus outbreak, she had pulled her sewing machine out of the closet to teach her fiancé how to sew. Now she’s mask-making. Helping her neighbors weather the pandemic has given her a new mission. “The sewing machine has been sitting on my dining table,” she says. “It finally got a purpose.”

Kathleen Reckling is the Deputy Director of Public Programs at ArtsWestchester.

A version of this article first appeared in the May issue of ArtsNews, ArtsWestchester’s monthly publication. ArtsNews is distributed throughout Westchester County. A digital copy is also available at artsw.org/artsnews.

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