Vermont Arts Council

Vermont’s Mask-making Artists

One of the most conspicuous and polarizing effects of the Covid-19 pandemic has been the face mask. Long a standard practice in cities across Asia, face masks in the United States have not been a part of the national conversation since the 1918 influenza epidemic that killed over 600,000 people in the U.S. and over 50 million worldwide. Then as now, health authorities knew the benefit of face masks to controlling the spread of disease, but the adoption of mask mandates was inconsistent around the country.

Now almost six months in the throes of the Covid-19 pandemic, as cases surge across the nation, more than half of states have mandated the wearing of face masks—Vermont included. On July 24, Governor Scott issued a mask mandate, effective August 1, requiring all persons over the age of two to wear face masks in indoor and outdoor public settings where six feet of social distance can’t be maintained. This requirement doesn’t apply when eating, drinking, or engaging in strenuous activity, or to anyone with medical reasons for not wearing masks.

Personal feelings about face masks aside, the evidence is now clear that widespread wearing of masks in public prevents the spread of Covid-19. Importantly for Vermont’s reopening arts and cultural organizations, research also indicates that face masks are the number one factor that would make people feel safe to visit again, short of a vaccine.

Though Vermont’s statewide mask mandate is new, Vermonters have been working to meet the growing need for masks since the onset of the pandemic. Many of these mask makers are artists and creatives whose regular practices and businesses were interrupted.

Maggie Neale, textile artist and board member of the Montpelier gallery Artisans Hand, first started making masks for herself and for family members who were “essential workers.” As the pandemic worsened, making face masks became a way to keep working.

Handmade face masks by Montpelier artist Maggie Neale.

“It was fun to root out fabrics gathered for years for their intrigue to me as a fiber artist,” said Maggie. “As a board member of Artisans Hand, I have worked diligently to reopen the gallery in a limited budget way. I figured I could offer masks to those who needed one for a donation to the Food Bank. As an artist whose galleries had closed and only recently started testing the waters of opening, I personally needed to make some artistic masks that I could sell. Digging through the backstock of hand painted silks, cottons, and hemp, I began creating one-of-kind masks for those people who wanted to be original and accessorize. Now I am painting with dye more silk, hemp, and linen experimenting with fabrics and color and it feels like being part of the essential art market.”

Maggie Neale’s handcrafted face masks are available for purchase at Artisans Hand in Montpelier.

For anyone in need of beautiful, creative face masks, we have collected here a number of other Vermont artists making masks and business selling masks by Vermont artists:

Do you know of an artist or business we should add to this list? Contact Desmond Peeples to let us know.