Mask crusaders: Artists rally to help solve shortages

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Chelle Peterson is the costume designer for Lansing Community College’s Department of Performing Arts. She is one of many local artists applying their talents to making masks to help with critical shortages.

“Artists are givers,” Peterson said. “Anything we can do to help others physically or emotionally is what drives many of us.”

Before LCC’s costume shop closed, Peterson brought home some fabric. “I was planning to make a mock-up of a pattern that we would use next year,” she said. “I decided to make masks instead.”

“I am fortunate that I have a lot of the same equipment at home as I do in the shop,” Peterson said.

The fabric had superheroes on it — a coincidence, but an apt one. “Those working on the front lines truly are heroes,” she said.

Julie Dodds is a Michigan State University professor, orthopedic surgeon, sports team physician and volunteer play costumer and scenographer. With theater closed and Dodds’ surgeries being mostly elective, she is using her sewing talents and contacts to supply masks.

She hosted a “mask-a-thon” at a quilting and crafting retreat she owns in northern Iowa. Dodds said she recruited skilled locals to produce cloth masks, in order to help keep fellow health care workers safe. Nearly 300 masks from the event will go to physicians in Iowa and other states, including Michigan.

Phyl Herrera builds stages, rigging, lighting and video screens for shows statewide. Recently, he heard a health care worker — his “second mom” — was only allowed one mask a week.

“That, right there, terrified me,” Herrera said.

To help, Herrera spearheaded the “Local StageHands and Crafters Making Face Masks” Facebook group. “I’ve never done anything like this,” Herrera said. “I got it up and running in about 42 hours.”

“It’s phenomenal how quickly everybody jumped in,” he added.

Herrera knew first hand that crew members are used to working under pressure and, like Herrera, are all currently unemployed.

His duties include collections and drop-offs, making hospital contacts and assisting with final assembly. Up to 50 people help with the process and five or six create the masks. “We can crank out 15, 20 masks a day per person,” Herrera said.

He stressed that anyone could find ways to contribute during a time when all first responders need masks. “It’s easy to do,” he said. “All you need is the will to help out.”

Dalena Cross runs the “StageHands” Facebook group. “We use the group to raise awareness, and to announce our no-contact donation pick-ups,” Cross said.

Cross has worked behind the scenes at Wharton, Breslin and Lansing Centers and other Michigan venues. “Stage life is known to create a family atmosphere,” Cross said, “So when the crisis hit, we came together as a family and decided to do something.”

For more than two years, Kayla Henry acted on theater stages. She handled vital roles in “Hairspray” and “The Great American Trailer Park Musical.” Now, Henry is hand-sewing masks to fill a vital need.

She got involved after a plea from Ellie Weise, “a fellow theater friend,” Henry said. “I hand-sewed a prototype using the pattern that Ellie had posted,” Henry said. “I showed my mom and she hopped on the bandwagon.”

They loaded up on sturdy and breathable cotton, fun fabrics and have been making five or six masks a day ever since.

Henry has personal reasons to be concerned. “I have aunts and other family members who are health care workers,” she said, “They are risking their own health to get ahead of the coronavirus.”

Judy Franklin is a painter, sculpture maker, woodworker and photographer. Franklin is also a sidelined early education teacher and professional musician who understands the need for masks.

Her sister works in a busy Community Mental Health clinic. “The masks for staff, patients, and even the custodians were nonexistent,” Franklin said.

After seeing a friend’s offer to make masks, “I contacted her and set her into action,” Franklin said.

Sarah Klages, who owns the Wrapped in Love sewing shop in Onondaga, accepted the challenge and got them to Franklin’s doorstep. “She is much faster than I. The next day I was able to drop the masks to my sister,” Franklin said. “All the social distancing made it feel like a covert operation, but it was necessary for safety reasons.”

Klages is making masks for other medical professionals. “She is the true heroine,” Franklin said. “The essential workers are also the heroes and heroines, putting themselves on the line every day.”

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