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Through the Mask: Conversations about Culture and COVID

By Sean Callahan, News Editor

On Wednesday, Nov. 10, from 4 to 6 p.m., The Foster and Muriel McCarl Coverlet Gallery held a public reception for its newest exhibit, titled, “Through the Mask: Conversations about Culture and COVID” in the lower lobby of the Fred Rogers Center.

(Sean Callahan) “Daughter of Disease”, by Lisa Stock.

According to a Saint Vincent College press release article, the exhibit is a project of the McCarl Gallery, the Department of History and the Public History and Digital Humanities Programs, sponsored through a grant from PA SHARP. The grant was provided as part of the National Endowment for the Arts response to the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, designed to explore and support humanities scholarship following the COVID-19 pandemic.

The exhibit includes pieces submitted by 20 artists working across the United States, Canada, and Europe. It aimed to capture conversations about culture and COVID-19, according to a description on one of the exhibit walls. Four of these descriptions, placed through the exhibit, capture the range of subjects covered: Through the Mask, Beyond the Mask, Wearing the Mask, and Under the Mask.

Pieces heavily leaned into the physical and metaphorical images of masks. Most depicted subjects related to the pandemic such as death, abuse, loss, solidarity, or PSAs. Some pieces showed how masks are viewed through different cultural or situational lenses.

(Callahan) “Veiled Reality Stay-mobile”, by Andrea Finch.

One exhibit piece is a pile of red paper masks. Each mask has a name and descriptions of someone who died from COVID-19. A shovel is placed within the middle of the pile, according to the exhibit caption, “ready to lift, hold and carry the memory of each person who was lost to us.” Each mask represents 100 deaths. Observers passing by the piece could write a name and message on an empty mask and add it to the pile. Another interactive piece reflecting on the pandemic is a large cotton canvas stretching across a wall. Embroidery threads make boxes for calendar days during the pandemic, from March to April. The size of each day varies depending on the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths. April 11 includes an embroidered illustration of the artist’s uncle, who died from COVID-19.

(Callahan) “Dig”, by Sarah Simmons and Evan Rumble.

Other exhibit pieces depict different perspectives on masks, such as putting on emotional masks to avoid difficult situations, displaying how physical masks are normal in other cultures, and simply capturing how humans look with different types of masks.

A few artists attended the McCarl Gallery public reception, including Lisa Stock, a filmmaker from New York City. She does mainly short films and considers metaphor a big component of her art. Her gallery piece is a digital photograph titled, “Daughter of Disease”, depicting a woman with a black mask, a picnic basket and a red coat and hat. The woman is Kayla Klatzkin, an actress and model Stock works with frequently.

Once New York shut down, Stock noticed the various ways the world responded to the pandemic, particularly having to wear masks. She desired a creative outlet and an artistic way to create a PSA for mask wearing. Inspired by a painting by Magritte titled “The Son of Man” and the tale of Little Red Riding Hood, she planned and took the picture of Klatzkin.

“I put both of them together by having her wear a coat and a bowler hat from Magritte’s painting, both of which are red. And next to her is the picnic basket,” Stock said.

Stock says there are also two other images not included in the McCarl exhibit that make up a series. Klatzkin is featured in both. In one, she washes her hands in a park in New York City, and in another, she demonstrates social distancing.

“It captured everything I wanted in one frame. I received a lot of positive feedback on it and was told it spoke to many people,” Stock said. “It wasn’t being judgmental or fear-mongering. It was saying, ‘this is the world we’re living in and none of us like it but it’s what we have to do to keep each other healthy.’”

Another artist who attended the public reception is Andrea Finch, an artist from Chambersburg, Pa. She has loved art for most of her life and tends to focus on botanicals. However, as Finch has emphasized, her McCarl Gallery piece, “Veiled Reality Stay-mobile”, a wire rack of many colorful, quilted textile masks, is very different from her usual focus.

When the pandemic began, and her husband’s government workplace put out a desperate call for masks, Finch realized it was possible for her to make a difference using her art. “I couldn’t do nothing, because I had a wall of fabric and a working sewing machine,” Finch said. “I wasn’t a nurse or a doctor. But I knew I could create masks.”

Now that conditions have improved, Finch does create some lighter and colorful masks now, some for kids, but is now back to botanicals, or as she has joked, ‘the happier things.’

“By the time I had finished 300 masks, I felt like I needed to do something else. Luckily, most of the N-95s had come in and most people all had the masks they needed,” Finch said.

The exhibit will continue to be displayed through the end of the semester on Wednesdays from 1 to 5 p.m. and on Fridays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. More of Stock’s work can be found on most social media (@LisaStockFilm) and on her website, More of Finch’s work can be found at her website,


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