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Ceramic masks reveal students’ pandemic emotions


On a campus known for hands-on education, a unique hands-on art project has given students an outlet for creatively expressing their feelings about the COVID-19 pandemic.

About 80 students enrolled in Ceramics 1 classes at Pennsylvania College of Technology crafted clay masks for “Regarding the Mask …,” an exhibit of nearly 170 art pieces being displayed on a fence surrounding The Victorian House in the center of campus. The location of the artwork  – wrapping around a home to evoke 2020’s housebound focus – is as symbolic as the pieces themselves.

Drawing inspiration from Scandinavian folk art, graphic design student Kaylee N. Masullo, of Bellefonte, says, “I wanted to convey a sense of comfort in home … there is much to appreciate about our homes.”
Drawing inspiration from Scandinavian folk art, graphic design student Kaylee N. Masullo, of Bellefonte, says, “I wanted to convey a sense of comfort in home … there is much to appreciate about our homes.”

The ceramic masks feature a range of messages from lighthearted inspirations to deeply felt disappointments. Some lament the loss of cherished pastimes, while others celebrate newfound joys or thank essential workers. Many offer encouragement to keep pressing forward with safety protocols for the benefit of all.

The initiative is the brainchild of David A. Stabley, instructor of ceramics and wood sculpture, who envisioned the art project as an emotional channel for students as they navigate the new terrain of a global pandemic.

“Wearing masks is the ‘new normal,’” Stabley said. “Most of us aren’t used to having face coverings. They can feel uncomfortable, emotions are hard to read and communications can be more difficult.

“Some ideas that could be expressed on the masks are feelings about the situation we’re all in and how this has affected them personally: how wearing a mask and social distancing have impacted their social interactions and daily functions. Positive messages and awareness could be communicated, while foul language and political messaging would be discouraged.”

Stabley hoped the initiative would stir a sense of community among the student artists as well as the campus community as they stroll along the fence, taking in the various designs.

Penn College’s ceramics classes serve as art electives for all majors, so a strong cross section of students enjoys the hands-on art form as it complements their studies with its parallel concepts of creative thinking, problem-solving and attention to detail.

Dominique “Nikki” Hardy, of Muncy, drew a peaceful lake and mountain scene on her mask to honor her rediscovery of nature in 2020.

“I discovered kayaking,” said the business administration: management concentration student. “It keeps me sane. I looked into it at the beginning of COVID and ended up buying a kayak. I’ve kayaked at Bald Eagle State Park. I like the calmness of the water. I was happy to get back in nature.”

Erik C. Huey’s thoughts drifted to missing out on his favorite pastime: summer concerts with his favorite band.

“I had a lot of concert plans this summer, including three nights with Phish in Atlantic City on the boardwalk,” said the building automation technology student from Frenchtown, New Jersey. Huey decorated his mask with Phish’s iconic red donuts and positive words: “Spread Love. Stay Positive. Be Happy. Listen to Phish.”

Alexa C. Henry, a graphic design student from Conshohocken, spent time photographing closed businesses in her borough this summer, and that inspired her mask’s words: “Sorry, We’re Closed.”

“I was thinking about all the businesses closing down, especially small businesses that closed near where I live,” Henry said. “As for this project, I think it’s interesting to take time to sit down and visualize and project an image. I’ve done that for other projects, but not for this time that we’re in, so it was a good exercise.”

Kevin C. Osczepinski, a graphic design student from Matamoras, chose to give a shout-out on his mask to essential workers. Osczepinski’s parents are middle and high school educators, and he worked for FedEx this summer, so he’s aware of the pressures of being on the front line during a pandemic.

The words “The Rona” and an illustration of the coronavirus are shared on the mask of Bri Milden, an information technology: network specialist concentration student from Nazareth.

An exhibit for the campus community of nearly 170 ceramic masks (on display on a fence surrounding The Victorian House at Pennsylvania College of Technology) offered a creative outlet for students to express their feelings about the COVID-19 pandemic.
An exhibit for the campus community of nearly 170 ceramic masks (on display on a fence surrounding The Victorian House at Pennsylvania College of Technology) offered a creative outlet for students to express their feelings about the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s a true story from work,” Milden said. “I was dropping off packages at a business and there was a customer there, leaning over the counter, and when I walked in wearing my mask, he looked at me and said, ‘You don’t have to wear that mask in here. I don’t have the Rona.’ I was in the mode of wearing my mask to care for others. I think even if it’s not comfortable or fashionable, it helps everyone.”

Abigail H. Finfrock, a web and interactive media student from Mansfield, inscribed her mask with the words: “It’s Not About You! Keep others safe … and hope they do the same.”

Of the “Regarding the Mask …” project, Finfrock said, “I thought it was a cool idea. It’s a different way to get our voices out there. It’s definitely something different; I haven’t seen anything like this.”

Each student in the Ceramics 1 classes made two clay masks and could decorate them both or share a mask with a friend to embellish. Once completed, yarn pieces were tied onto the masks to resemble ear straps that handily doubled as hangars for the art installation on the campus fence.

“I thought the mask project was an appropriate way to start the semester off, with most students having just returned from their COVID-altered summer experiences and new to the practice of wearing masks on campus,” said Deborah L. Stabley, an adjunct art faculty member who also instructs the Ceramics 1 classes. “The colorful ceramic masks provided an outlet for some much-needed venting, as well as a background for some lighthearted messages. I love that they are ‘wrapped’ around The Victorian House, providing more meaning to the project, and visible for all to see.”

The Stableys expect the “Regarding the Mask …” exhibit to be on display through October.

To learn more about Penn College’s graphic design and advertising art majors, call the School of Business, Arts & Sciences at 570-327-4521.

For more about the college, a national leader in applied technology education, email the Admissions Office or call toll-free at 800-367-9222.

– Photos by Cindy Davis Meixel, writer/photo editor

 

In the ceramics lab, Bri Milden, information technology: network specialist concentration, poses with “The Rona” mask.
In the ceramics lab, Bri Milden, information technology: network specialist concentration, poses with “The Rona” mask.

Graphic design student Alexa C. Henry explores a melancholy message.
Graphic design student Alexa C. Henry explores a melancholy message.

Sketches mingle with masks in the ceramics studio as graphic design student Ryan F. Dubbs considers the concept of patience.
Sketches mingle with masks in the ceramics studio as graphic design student Ryan F. Dubbs considers the concept of patience.

A pile of masks in a kiln
A pile of masks in a kiln

Dominique “Nikki” Hardy, business administration: management concentration, focuses on the joy of discovering kayaking during COVID.
Dominique “Nikki” Hardy, business administration: management concentration, focuses on the joy of discovering kayaking during COVID.

Phish fan Erik C. Huey, building automation technology, embellishes his mask with the band’s iconic red donuts.
Phish fan Erik C. Huey, building automation technology, embellishes his mask with the band’s iconic red donuts.

Varied creative expressions line up in the lab.
Varied creative expressions line up in the lab.

Masks await decorating on a lab shelf.
Masks await decorating on a lab shelf.

Yarn pieces are tied to each mask to resemble ear straps that double as installation hangers.
Yarn pieces are tied to each mask to resemble ear straps that double as installation hangers.

An encouraging quote adorns this mask by Brynn M. Dunkleberger, pre-physician assistant studies.
An encouraging quote adorns this mask by Brynn M. Dunkleberger, pre-physician assistant studies.

Mourning the little things
Mourning the little things

New graphic design faculty member Kathryn M. Anderson joins the fun with this outdoors-inspired offering.
New graphic design faculty member Kathryn M. Anderson joins the fun with this outdoors-inspired offering.

Nathan R. Hugo, residential construction technology and management: building construction technology concentration, adds his “Smile Underneath” contribution.
Nathan R. Hugo, residential construction technology and management: building construction technology concentration, adds his “Smile Underneath” contribution.

Kevin C. Osczepinski completes his mask, giving a shoutout to essential personnel. The graphic design student was employed by FedEx this summer and is the son of teachers.
Kevin C. Osczepinski completes his mask, giving a shoutout to essential personnel. The graphic design student was employed by FedEx this summer and is the son of teachers.

Sabrina J. Martin, nursing, reads one of two signs explaining the exhibit’s intentions.
Sabrina J. Martin, nursing, reads one of two signs explaining the exhibit’s intentions.

The man behind the mask! Ceramics instructor David A. Stabley poses with one of his creations.
The man behind the mask! Ceramics instructor David A. Stabley poses with one of his creations.

Two-by-two, masks are added to the exhibit.
Two-by-two, masks are added to the exhibit.

Enjoying a seasonal stroll around The Victorian House, Summer L. Bukeavich, assistant professor of business administration/management and marketing, takes in the inspirational array.
Enjoying a seasonal stroll around The Victorian House, Summer L. Bukeavich, assistant professor of business administration/management and marketing, takes in the inspirational array.

Accented by house lights glowing in the background, this illuminating mask is the work of Lydia R. Albert, pre-nursing (BSN).
Accented by house lights glowing in the background, this illuminating mask is the work of Lydia R. Albert, pre-nursing (BSN).

A pair of uplifting posts
A pair of uplifting posts

An unselfish reminder etched by Abigail H. Finfrock, web and interactive media.
An unselfish reminder etched by Abigail H. Finfrock, web and interactive media.

Four staff from the School of Business, Arts & Sciences added contributions to the exhibit, including Dean Sue A. Kelley (shown here) and secretaries Laurie K. Erb, Carrie A. Mayer and Jeri L. Moser.
Four staff from the School of Business, Arts & Sciences added contributions to the exhibit, including Dean Sue A. Kelley (shown here) and secretaries Laurie K. Erb, Carrie A. Mayer and Jeri L. Moser.

Blending beautifully with roses on The Victorian House lawn
Blending beautifully with roses on The Victorian House lawn

The essentials of 2020
The essentials of 2020

Some masks simply offer abstract art that seamlessly blends with the setting’s natural and historic elements.
Some masks simply offer abstract art that seamlessly blends with the setting’s natural and historic elements.

Fur friends need their people, too!
Fur friends need their people, too!

It ain’t over ’til it’s over!
It ain’t over ’til it’s over!

Sun, birds, trees and flowers all wear masks in this amusing entry.
Sun, birds, trees and flowers all wear masks in this amusing entry.

Displaying that essential COVID coping skill: humor
Displaying that essential COVID coping skill: humor

Words to the wise
Words to the wise

A phrase heard loud and clear – and regularly – around campus
A phrase heard loud and clear – and regularly – around campus

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