Mask art project resumes after 18 month gap; gives Otisville fifth-graders a way to show how they’ve changed during a pandemic

Sometimes, an art project can take longer than expected to finish.

And that’s not that uncommon, because the artistic process often plays itself out over time.

It’s been said artists need inspiration, (what is the stimulus or motivation for the creating the art); percolation (the time that elapses after an idea is developed, but before the making of the art begins); preparation (how to proceed); creation (the time spent to make the project a reality); and reflection (how did it turn out, should anything have been done differently).

For Otisville Elementary fifth-graders, there’s a sixth category: A pandemic.

students making masksOver 18 months ago, in March 2020 when these students were third-graders, in the middle of the third quarter of the school year, art teacher Kara Welsh introduced them to their latest art assignment: Masking making.

The third-grade mask project 

They were instructed to create a design which they felt best represented them and paint that onto the mask. The intent of the finished project was to make a mask having three symbols representing the student; a mask of what he/she looked like “on the inside.”

They were told they could use paper, clay, paint, and eventually beads, buttons, feathers, pompoms, sequins, sand and other materials to complete their masks.

Pandemic stops everything

student making maskAt the end of the day on March 13, students, faculty and staff left their school buildings believing they’d be out of school for just a few days, as officials struggled with how to address the COVID-19 outbreak from a local, statewide, national and international perspective.

And as everyone knows, students never returned to in-person instruction that school year. Remote and hybrid instructional models were put in place for the following school year, with an eventual return to in-person instruction at the tail end of the 2021 school year.

Art instruction differed during that time, but the third-graders’ masks were safely stored in Ms. Welsh’s art room. She never thought about tossing them out.

As fourth-graders, students would often ask Ms. Welsh if they’d ever finish their mask projects. Questions particularly came up about this at the end of students making masksthe prior school year when the district returned to four days of in-person instruction and the masks were visible to them when they’d come to art class.

Their interest gave Ms. Welsh fuel for thought:  Why not morph the intent of the third-grade mask project?

The reimagined fifth-grade mask project

Instead of having them finish their masks to show what they looked like internally as third-graders, students would complete their masks to show how they changed from third to fifth-graders.  Everyone has changed during and as a result of the pandemic, Ms. Welsh reasoned, and the mask project would now allow them to show how they are as fifth-graders. What was different about them now versus when they were in third-grade? How could they express that artistically on a mask?  (New students obviously started from scratch.)

As she watched them resume work, Ms. Welsh saw many students changed the designs they recalled having on the masks, or changing the work already in place.

student painting mask‘I’m a different person now.’

“I’m a different person now,” said student Joseph Voigtland. “I liked (the color) green before. Now it’s purple. I’m more into art now. I’m more into math now. I help out more at home now. I didn’t clean very much at home before.”

His “third-grade mask” was painted dark teal; that’s been changed to black. And he’s adding some new shapes to represent the kind of person he feels he is now: A diamond to represent creativity; and a triangle to represent math.  The red and orange on the beak represent his new helping nature to clean.

“I think she kept the masks because she knew we could redo the masks and do them better as fifth-graders,” said Joseph. “When I was in third-grade,  kids have different ideas then they do now. Every single grade level, we are different. I think I have evolved as an artist.”

student with maskMs. Welsh said finishing the masks was important to her because the masks were intended to represent how the children saw themselves.

“We curate our clothes and hair to be outward expressions of who we are, but these masks are supposed to show who the children are on the ‘inside,’” she said. “Meaning: features of ourselves that aren’t always visible from our exteriors. The last 18 months may have changed the way some students feel, react or view themselves.”

Reflections of lives in flux but which have grown 

She was gratified that most students understood what she was looking to impart to them as part of their art project… which took a very long time to finish.

“By choosing which parts of the original mask to cover up or change, students students with maskscan have a visual representation of their metamorphosis,” Ms. Welsh added. “Change can be hard to accept, and it has happened so abruptly lately. This project has been a great opportunity to reflect on our lives in flux and take inventory of the growth we have experienced.”

See more photos on the district’s Facebook page.