Whether they’re covering faces, hanging from rear-view mirrors, lining pockets or lying in gutters, facemasks are ubiquitous. But for Lois Siemens they are also a blank canvas.
Siemens is spiritual-care director at Bethany Manor, a seniors housing complex owned and operated by the Mennonite churches of Saskatoon and area. When residents at Bethany Manor were required to wear masks, Siemens posed the question, “Who’s behind the mask?”
She took pictures of residents and posted them on a common bulletin board, inviting people to guess who was behind each mask. One week she posted pictures of 21 women whose first name was Ann (or Anne) and asked residents to see if they could tell which Ann was which.
After a while, the question intriguing Siemens changed from “Who’s behind the mask?” to “What’s behind the mask?”
“What are we hiding behind the mask?” she wondered.
Siemens, who is a calligrapher, began taking her paper masks home and laundering them. Then she would sit down and write on them. On one mask she wrote the word “yawn” because, she says, “I can yawn behind my mask and no one will see.”
During the long hours of pandemic lockdown, the calligraphy guild she belongs to offered free enrichment sessions with teachers from all over the world. She started using techniques learned during these sessions on her masks.
At first she hung her finished masks on the wall behind her desk at work, and residents would comment on them when they stopped by her office. Then she thought it might be fun to cover a whole wall with masks.
When Siemens learned that Osler Mennonite Church, where she attends, was having an art show, she decided to create a larger artwork using masks. She lettered “faith,” “hope,” and “love” on three masks, which became the tops of three columns of connected masks.
“That’s the basis of our faith,” says Siemens, “and everything I’m trying to do at Bethany Manor comes out of those three things and is connected to them.”
Siemens found that paper masks work well as an art medium. With a little experimentation she learned that felt-tip markers and pastel watercolour pencils worked best.
At first she wrote down words as she thought of them. Once she decided on a larger project, she says, “I would grab five or ten and just play around for an hour or so.”
Siemens hopes people who see her facemask artwork will ponder the question she poses with it.
“What’s behind the mask?” she asks. “What kinds of things are we hiding in our lives that need to come to the light of Christ?”
But serious reflection isn’t her only motivation. She also hopes her own creative efforts will inspire others to do something similar.
“Sometimes elders say they have so much time on their hands,” she says. “Here’s an idea. Take your waste and do something creative with it.” She adds, “I just want people to have fun. Yes, this is serious, but we can also laugh a little bit.”
This article appears in the Sept. 27, 2021 print issue, with the headline “‘What are you hiding behind the mask?’” Do you have a story idea about Mennonites in Saskatchewan? Send it to Donna Schulz at email@example.com.