DIA, other Detroit outfits offer artistic flair in masks

Jasmin Barmore
The Detroit News

The coronavirus pandemic prompted the sales of plain-color masks, but face coverings being sold in the Detroit area are increasingly taking on an artistic flair that caters to creative individuals and the fine arts crowd.

The Detroit Institute of Arts rolled out an initial line of fine arts masks in May, sold 500 masks in the first 45 minutes and sold out the supply of 5,200 masks in four days, said Erick Huck, the DIA's director of retail operations.

It has taken two months for the museum to replenish the stock and sales were restarted Wednesday online and Thursday in the museum's gift store.

“We have been getting several calls a day inquiring about the masks,” Huck said. “Last week, we had 20 email inquiries in one day about when the masks would go back on sale.”

The DIA had sold 366 units through Friday morning without any promotion of the 2,500 masks in stock, he said.  

North wall mask inspired by the north wall Detroit Industry Murals in Rivera Court at Detroit Institute of Arts Museum, Tuesday, July 22, 2020.

“I couldn’t be happier with the response," Huck said, "and so glad people like the artwork.”

The interest has been sparked because the DIA was among the first museums to produce masks, he said.

"When we first launched our mask, none of the museums had really come up with a solution to implement the artwork," Huck said. "I was really glad to be on the cutting edge of that.”  

The DIA plans to sell nine masks online and in its gift shop, but started selling eight of them this week. Five of the designs are inspired from the permanent DIA’s art collection and the other four are from popular artwork around the world. 

Two of the masks are from Diego Rivera's "Detroit Industry" murals — one from the north wall and the other from the south wall. The others are a floral work by Claude  Monet and a humming birds and orchids print inspired from a painting by Martin Johnson Heade.

The fifth DIA design — Flowers in a Glass Vase by Ruysch — is being delayed due to production, but will be available sometime in August, Huck said.

Among the four masks crafted from other artworks are one from Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh and the Japanese artist Hokusai.

Each mask is handmade, consisting of two layers of 100% cotton fabric, he said. A filter sits in between them for extra protection, and the design is printed directly on the top layer of mask.   

A Rounded Flower Bed mask inspired by Rounded Flower Bed, 1876, by Claude Monet in the Modern: Van Gogh to Picasso exhibit at Detroit Institute of Arts Museum, Tuesday, July 22, 2020.

“We work with a production company, and they produce all our units,” Huck said. “We are expecting to have close to 2,500 total units on hand across all designs.”

The recent uptick in COVID-19 cases in Michigan and around the country plus Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's mask executive orders have helped stir mask sales. It's important to continue selling masks, said Karen Buscemi, owner of Detroit Sewn, which manufactures personal protection equipment. 

“I don’t really think we’ve even come close to seeing the end" of the pandemic, Buscemi said. “The need for mask is going to continue for quite some time.”

Detroit Sewn has been making masks with no break since March, and they have already seen an increase in the demand for mask since Whitmer’s July 15 mask mandate. The company normally makes PPE for hospitals and hospital supply companies, but recently has made more masks for the consumers. 

“We have been doing more business-branded masks lately,” Buscemi said.  “And just last week, we made a reversible mask that has two different prints on each side, which are available on our website in a five-pack.” 

Face shields have been added to the selections offered by Rea Alexander, another local business in Detroit who has been making mask with a funky flare since March. 

“The face shields are easier to make. It only takes three simple steps,” said Kim Wilson, owner of Rea Alexander. “When I first started making the mask, my business shot off in one week and it was so hard to keep up. I have just finally managed to get a flow and the demand for masks has come back and now face shields.” 

Since the summer arrived, her customers inquire more about her face shields because the weather is so hot, Wilson said.   

“The shields are made of PET material, which is a form of silk and they are lightweight and easier to operate,” she said. “I have had someone tell me that the shields make it more comfortable when breathing during this heat and because they cover up the entire face, they prefer them over the mask.”