Late in the 20th century, masks were mainstream. We went to theaters to find Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, Ghostface, and even Jim Carrey relying on non-medical face coverings to function. Kenner even created an entire toyline and media franchise around the clunky abbreviation for Mobile Armored Strike Kommand. Members (or surrogates) of Wu-Tang Clan hid their faces on the group’s iconic debut album cover. We knew then what we’ve lost sight of now—masks can be as cool as they are necessary.

Flash forward 25 years and even superheroes are no longer interested in hiding their identities. Is it any wonder that so many have refused to wear a $2 piece of cloth to stop a pandemic? Milwaukee had to make us do it, implementing a mask mandate in mid-July. Wisconsin might follow suit very soon.

But rather than see masks as necessary and inconvenient, Milwaukee Record wondered if the accoutrement just needs better marketing. Fortunately, our city boasts a creative class that’s helping us look good as we stay safe. We asked a handful of makers to tell us how they approached the need, how they want wearers to feel, and how their masks help others who need support in our community.

Adventure Mouse Wares

Tea Norfolk typically hand-crafts colorful clothes with unique patterns for young children. She’s expanded into masks, for young people and adults.

What prompted you to start making masks?
As soon as information started coming out that handmade two-layer cotton masks were helpful, I jumped right in. I was super excited that I actually had a skill that would be useful in a time of need. In the first month, I made and donated a few hundred to essential workers and neighbors. I did not feel it was appropriate to profit from a disaster, and I really wanted to help my community, slow the spread, and flatten the curve. After a while, though, it started to get pretty expensive to keep donating, and people kept trying to pay me, so I finally caved in and added the masks to my website.

What’s your process like?
I started with the pleated square design with ties because I had heard so much feedback about ear elastic being irritating (and because I had enough fabric to make bias tape, but elastic was out of stock everywhere). I recently changed my design to the swoopy, face-curving kind with elastic because it’s frankly a sexier mask. Recently, I read a study that a layer of silk with a layer of cotton has the best filtration because of the electrostatic properties of silk and the tight weave of cotton. So my newer batches have vintage kimono silk on one side and woven cotton on the other. It’s easier to breathe in them, too.

What do you want people to feel when they wear your masks?
I want people to feel comfortable, and I want them to feel like they can breathe. I also hope they get a little jolt of excitement from the beauty of the fabrics. I get a dopamine hit when I work with them, so I hope that pleasure extends to the people wearing them.

Have you been affected by the pandemic?
I’ve got little kids, and I worry for their health every time I read a horrible story about a bad outcome for a child. I’m lucky that I get to work from home for the time being, but my husband still has to work with the public, so I worry for his safety as well. I wish the mask mandate had happened months ago, especially given the pushback from a seemingly large number of people. I am so thankful to Ald. Dimitrijevic for bringing this to the Council, to the co-sponsors for signing on, and to the Common Council for approving it.

Where can people buy your masks?
The easiest way is to shop at AdventureMouseWares.com.

The Demix

The Milwaukee-based visual artist, designer, and musician is behind the city’s long-running MELT events.

How does your somewhat confrontational music translate to your mask design?
I’ve been wearing masks since March when my day job was deemed essential. And staying six feet away from strangers really isn’t that hard for me–it’s not too much to ask ourselves as a united country to do, but we are divided AF. So the “Keep Your Distance” mask is definitely confrontational…most people out there don’t want to come near you if you are wearing a 666 on your face. The “2020” mask is more personal piece of art featuring a drawing of my cat Stupid (RIP) atop a blue office building overlooking a city being destroyed and burning to the ground. So I guess I have some thoughts about things, but I feel art—music or visual—is the best way I can say what I want to say.

When did you add masks to your collection?
As soon as they became available to me via Threadless, which was July 1. It’s the best place to buy my masks and shirts. I donate a portion of the proceeds from each mask to MedShare.

How has COVID-19 affected you personally, professionally, and/or creatively?
Not being able to play live events is hell for me, and throwing shows is out of the question. We have done some MELT live streams at twitch.tv/414melt, which were super fun. And we were able to do a couple shows early in the year before the pandemic hit. I see more online activity for us in the future whether it’s live streams or podcasts or puppet shows—our live stream features an epic puppet show.

Do you think masks will be common after COVID-19 has run its course?
It sure seems masks might be here to stay for a while. For me, social norms could use an overhaul anyway. I’ll take a fist bump and six feet of personal space whether there is a pandemic or not.

FlyBlooms

Tiffany Miller launched her boutique for stylish, quality, and unique adornments in 2012. In 2018 she collaborated with Lilo Allen of Papyrus & Silk to open The Bronzeville Collective MKE, home to over 25 Black, brown, and queer creatives.

How did you start making masks?
I actually didn’t want to make masks. My dad offered to invest $500 in supplies to make masks in March, and I told him no. In April, the need grew to a point that could not be ignored. I saw the need in my community, which was being hit disproportionately harder. I also looked at the quality being offered and decided to create something Fly, Fashionable and Filtered at an affordable price.

What does your creative process entail?
I usually see things in my head and go from there. That’s how creativity works right. I love creating adornments that make it easy for people to add color to their wardrobes. I watched two minutes of a mask making video and started the process. My new FlyAdjust style is an experiment gone right. Another thing I saw in my head. I am the sole person crafting all this goodness at the moment. I’ll be hiring staff soon to meet the demand for face masks.

How has COVID-19 affected you personally, professionally or creatively?
I have been in transition for months within my own life. My mother transitioned to angel in December. Finding Joy in the Mourning is hard in isolation, and also seeing so many others transition in a short amount of time. I recently resigned from teaching. I am now the Small Business Resource Coach for Project Optimize with WWBIC.

Is it a benefit to have everyone working together in a space where there’s a strong sense of community?
Our community is dope and wants us to remain here. We pivoted to an online store during the pandemic, which was a huge task. Our doors were closed for 3 1/2 months. Thankfully, we were able to sustain through grants, sales and donations. “Collaboration WORKS” is our motto and it’s really true. Our space, this vision, the artists and creations within are a reflection of the message that needs to be received by the world: ALL BLACK LIVES MATTER!

David Najib Kasir

David is a contemporary oil-painter living and working in Milwaukee. His work consists of personal narrative and surrounds the act of coming to terms with the challenges of family, life, love, and loss.

How did you move from painting to making masks?
Well, I think I was joking with friends that by wearing a facemask, nobody will be able to know who anyone is behind their mask. With masks we all look the same. I started to think if I am going to put something on my face, it might as well be something that is me or represents me. My work as an artist represents me and I originally only made it for myself and close family.

What is it about your art that translates well to masks?
I have done a lot of work over the years that has a very design-quality to it that seems to fit very well for these masks. The designs are called Zelliege and can be found on Arab mosaic furniture, instruments, jewelry boxes, as well as clothing and buildings. My work combines the Zelliege mosaics with Arab floral designs.

How do you want people to feel when they wear your masks?
I think that since we all need to be wearing masks to protect our own health as well as for the health of others, I hope my masks give others the sense of individuality. Wearing a mask that stands out can feel creative and expressive. But maybe that’s easy for me to say when they are of my own work.

How has the pandemic affected you personally, professionally or creatively?
COVID-19 has affected me in so many ways, I am not even sure I can explain. I had a line of gallery and art-related events I was to take part in. Artistically, I expected 2020 to be very busy, and was hoping to give my work even more exposure. In April, three big exhibits I was to be featured in were canceled. The Democratic convention this month was a big opportunity for me and many other MKE artists—that is no more. Routines in my studio practice, art communities, relationships, and my family has been affected. I’ve had friends test positive, I’ve had friends lose loved ones. I found out not long ago that my family in Lebanon has lost members.

What’s the best way to buy your masks?
Best way is to follow and contact me on Instagram: @davidnajibkasir or @davidnajibkasirpaintings. You can find and message me on Facebook or email me at davidnkasir@gmail.com. And you can always check out my website at davidnajibkasir.com. And now you can purchase my masks at the Museum of Wisconsin Art.

Kendraplex

Kendra Amalie is a unique acclaimed musician, known for her 12-string guitar playing that Brooklyn Vegan notes “is prone to shredding.” She released a collaborative album with Riley Walker in May, and creates visual art and objects with a recognizable look.

How did you start making masks?
Handmade merch and specifically tie-dye has been a part of my practice, if you can call it that, for 10 years or so. I love offering handmade art objects with my music. At a certain point I’d go on tour and people would be like, “I already have four tie-dye t-shirts from you.” So I started making other tie-dye items—pillowcases, towels, mini-quilts—and making masks was an easy step to take. In early COVID when we started hearing that our for-profit healthcare system needed mask donations I was like okay, time to make tie-dye masks.

How do you want people to feel when they wear your masks?
I hope they feel unburdened, safe, strong, expressive, alive, hopeful, happy, fun, free, and normal. My masks are a fashion accessory suitable for any identity or mood. I want people to not worry about the mask slipping under their nose when they’re sweaty or when their hands are full.

What’s your process like?
The masks are homemade on a basic sewing machine but they’re durable, adjustable, comfortable, and made with high quality materials. It was challenging to get supplies in March so I was making the masks out of leftover cotton pillowcase merch, RIT, and clothesline. I’ve made maybe around 100 now, so I’m getting closer to perfecting the method and happy to be able to get and use my preferred materials. I love making them!

What’s the best way to buy your masks?
They’re up at kendraplex.bigcartel.com. I’m also happy to entertain custom orders for specific colors or tie-dye patterns.

About The Author

Brent Gohde
Contributor

Brent Gohde is a freelance contributor to the Milwaukee Record. An agency copywriter by day, he’s a lifelong Milwaukeean who co-produces Milwaukee Day, and makes events as Cedar Block.

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