Gulfport resident Debbie Stevenson was bored at home, feeling cooped up with nothing to do. She started scrolling through Facebook and came across a post of cardboard masks — not protective masks, but Cubist-like, asymmetrical ones posted by a museum in Paris.
She got an idea.
She had plenty of cardboard thanks to her new habit of ordering things online, and she already had art supplies around the house. So she made a mask: a face with a sign that said “COVID-19,” surrounded by a circle with a line through it. She placed it outside her house, with the intention of giving people out walking something to look at.
While she was posting about making the mask on her Facebook page, other friends started making them, too. She created the Mask of Covid-19 Facebook group, and invited her friends to join.
“Everyone is tired of being cooped up ... and we have tons of cardboard from all the deliveries we’ve gotten ... make a mask, a sign, with your feelings about our confinement ... have some fun,” she wrote on the group’s page. “Make it as wild, or as serious as you want. Post a picture of your sign, along with your address, if you feel comfortable doing it. Put the sign/mask in your window, your alley or in your yard. You can use paint, markers, crayons, or what ever you have. Invite your friends to play along. Just have fun!!!”
That was on April 9. On Friday, the group has 480 members and, as a result, about 80 masks or signs are posted around the city.
“It was very organic, because we don’t do things alone in Gulfport,” Stevenson, 67, said by phone Wednesday. “We all had frustration from being at home because we travel in groups here.”
Friends of Stevenson’s who live in Oklahoma, Ohio and Canada have also participated.
Stevenson, who is retired after a 35-year career in radio advertising sales, likes to paint as a hobby, but wasn’t finding the inspiration to make anything lately. The masks brought that back.
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She and her husband, Dwight Moore, moved to Gulfport from Oklahoma five years ago. They’d vacationed in the Tampa Bay area for years. After their last trip, they didn’t go home.
Before the coronavirus forced everyone to stay inside, Stevenson was an active volunteer in a community she loves dearly.
As one might expect from Gulfport residents, the creativity and imagination of the masks and signs are boundless. Some are political, others are delightfully silly, many are encouraging. Many include face masks, rolls of toilet paper and hand sanitizer. Others bear the mantras “Stay Safe” and “Keep Your Distance.”
People who have been sewing face masks incorporated scraps of fabric and spools of thread from their efforts. There are many that look tiki-inspired, fitting for Gulfport’s beachy vibe. A few people rendered the COVID-19 virus. A guitar-shaped one is a tribute to John Prine, the musician and part-time Gulfport resident who died recently.
Those who don’t consider themselves artistic are also encouraged to participate. And many have by simply placing masks and gloves on household objects and statues. Stevenson would love for more people to participate, and urges every member of the Facebook group to invite their friends.
A map of the creations is in the works, as is a caravan to view them while staying in the car, planned for April 25.
Stevenson said it’s nice to see people giggle at her mask when they walk by.
And even though she knows what a tight-knit community Gulfport is, she was amazed at how quickly people took to her idea.
“I was just bored," she said.
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