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Interview With a Mask Maker: Helping the Helpers

Amanda Barrow, wearing one of her creations.Amanda Barrow, wearing one of her creations.When LifePath put out a call for Personal Protective Equipment (including masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer) to be used in our programs where we are in contact with elders and persons with disabilities, the overwhelming response was heartwarming. One of the many people who contacted us was Amanda Barrow, who offered to make 20 masks for us from her late mother’s fabric supply. Along with donating the masks, Amanda agreed to answer a few questions for The Good Life.

1. What motivated you/gave you the idea to make masks?

When the COVID-19 event began to be a real thing for me in mid-February, I decided that I wanted to get involved with helping helpers. I knew that I couldn't actually manufacture N-95 masks, the type that doctors use in the hospital, etc. I wanted to make something more simple, for the everyday person, something that I could just sort of ''bang out'' quickly, to put it bluntly. I'm a pretty good seamstress. I saw a post from my friend Noe Kidder on Facebook, and she is sewing face masks in Brooklyn, NY. Then I saw a more local group on Facebook, and hooked up with them, DIY MASKS OF WESTERN MASS.* I remember my mom talking about ''Bundles for Britain'' that she was involved with in the 1940's. She made handknit hats and mittens for the soldiers that were shipped to Britain, and I wanted to do something similar for my community, but only with masks.

2. What made you use your mother's fabric?

My mother passed away almost 25 years ago, and she was an obsessive quilter and knitter; she made beautiful and intricate hand-stitched items. Her ''craft room'' was filled with unused quilt fabric after she died. My siblings and I split up the fabric, and I've been moving it from place to place for 25 years, using it in my artwork, and also giving it away. When I read that very tightly woven fabric should be used in the fabrication of these face masks, I instantly thought of my mom's quilting fabric. I had so much I gave some to my friend Pamela Matsuda-Dunn, who is also sewing masks for caregivers, pharmacists, friends, family, etc. I thought it would be a wonderful thing to share mom's fabric, which has been in plastic bags-release her loving fabric out into the world as little protection devices. She would've loved this project!

I thought it would be a wonderful thing to share mom's fabric, which has been in plastic bags-release her loving fabric out into the world as little protection devices.

3. What was your mom's name and tell me a little about her.

My mom's name was Josephine, and she was a very smart and down-to-earth woman. She was born in Indiana and pretty much stayed there all of her life. In the mid-sixties, she divorced my father and went back to school to get her MSW (Masters in Social Work). She had four kids to raise, and needed to work. After graduating from graduate school, she got a job at a childrens' hospital in Indianapolis, and worked with kids and adults for I believe 28 years. She was an excellent seamstress, knitter, quilter, etc. She was the type of person who could pick up textile-related skills very easily. She passed those skills onto my sister, me, AND one of my brothers (he knits and sews too!). She had three cancers, and the last one got her (breast, Hodgkin's lymphoma, and leukemia). She died at age 66. She was a sweetie!

4. How many masks have you made so far?  How many did you end up making for LifePath?

I've made around 55 masks so far. I finally got my elastic today so I can make more, but I also have a life. LifePath will be the recipient of 20 masks. LifePath will get some funny ones . . . I found some kitty fabric that my mom had. She loved cats! So I hope someone ends up with a kitty mask and gets a few laughs from it. I also found some gorgeous blue fabric with some nice block printing . . . that's a nice mask too!

5. Tell us a little about yourself and your art.

I'm a visual artist and live in Easthampton, MA with my musician-husband Carl Clements who is a saxophone performer/composer; he teaches at Amherst College and Springfield College presently. My studio is located in Easthampton, where I teach printmaking classes, and also maintain a painting studio. I teach around the world (India, Germany, Iceland), and am hoping that the three classes I have scheduled for Germany in early June will happen, as well as my workshop in Iceland on October 10! But who knows . . . 

A mask being sewn on an old fashioned sewing machine.A mask in process.I have a sponsor, Speedball Art/Akua Inks, and I teach monotype printmaking with sustainable products and inks that clean up with warm soapy water. In my paintings, I use some of my mom's fabrics to create ''collage paintings.'' I incorporate fabric on top of cheesecloth, silk, and linen to create work that hopefully suggests to the viewer ideas of the past, future, and present moment.  I've been an artist most of my 60 years on the planet. My family was very supportive of my gifts and talent, and I'm blessed to have a great clan. My next show is with the Affordable Art Fair/NYC September 23-27. 

These masks are not only functional but also ornamental as well. One can't speak very well when one wears a mask, and I'm actually starting to think of them as art pieces. These days, I see human rights issues going down the toilet in this country, and in a way, the mask is the perfect object or vehicle to be used as a metaphor in that context. The idea of the mask is starting to infiltrate my creative process . . . who knows what I'll come up with in my studio at this point, now that I've been touched by COVID-19. You are welcome to sign up for my newsletter to find out about my workshops and open studio events, and gallery exhibitions, at my website.

6. How did you hear about LifePath?

My friend Mona Shiber, who is an artist in my building at One Cottage Street in Easthampton, forwarded me an email that LifePath was looking for masks. She was my connection.

7. How long does it take you to make each mask/what is your general process?

Now that I have the process down, I guess it's taking me about 15 minutes per mask. I use a method from the Deaconess Hospital in Evansville, IN. They put a call out for masks, and gave instructions online. It's the most simple pattern I could find.

8. What else do you feel it's important for people to know?

These masks are used by everyone. I wear mine when I shop at the market, go to the Post Office, CVS, etc. I saw a guy wearing one the other day while riding his bike!

*If you are a seamster or seamstress, or have fabric, 1/4'' elastic, an old sewing machine that works, or anything like that to donate, please get in touch with DIY Masks of Western Mass on Facebook. Thank you!