Contact: Jason Kendall
Grant & Communications Writer
SAVANNAH, GA (June 12, 2020) — Zebras, mermaids, and skateboarding cats aren’t images you’d naturally associate with a global pandemic, but for Savannah fabric artist Jessica Pope, they’re a welcome treatment drawn from her creative practice. At a time when personal protective equipment worn in public can hide people’s emotions, Pope thinks it’s more important than ever to give them a reason to smile behind their masks.
“I started making because I had to do something to help and keep myself calm,” Pope says. “I had all materials on hand, so there was no question I should do it.”
With her partner Trae Gurley, Pope currently runs Savannah-based company Buck and Doe, which specializes in unique personal and home accessories. Their most popular products are handcrafted, brightly patterned bowties featuring quirky scenes. So when coronavirus began to change American society in March, shifting her focus to sewing whimsical fabric face masks was a natural transition. Pope started making the masks for the Savannah community, but it quickly became a national effort.
“We have made a little over 1,000 masks and have requests for 1,000 more and growing every day,” Pope explains.
Luckily, Pope has had a lot of help meeting that demand from one very intrepid volunteer: her grandmother, Mariella.
“I couldn’t do it without my 86-year-old grandmother, who has now cut over 2,000 masks,” Pope says. “She’s been happily cleaning out her fabric stash to contribute to the cause.”
Pope has spoken with her grandmother every day since early March, when the coronavirus pandemic began to shutter most of the country. Mariella, whose husband died in 2012, lives alone in Eagle, Idaho, and uses “a fleet of walkers to get around,” Pope says. “Every room is dedicated to one of her hobbies, and the entire garage has been transformed into the ultimate sewing lair, which is where she usually is when I call.”
In 2019, Pope’s work was featured as part of Telfair Museums’ Boxed In/Break Out project showcasing local artists. Her installation Folklore, consisting of six large-scale paper quilts centered around repurposed Kodachrome slides, was shown in the Jepson Center’s exterior windows. Now the artist and the museum are partnering again.
In addition to commissioning 30 of Pope’s masks to protect frontline employees when Telfair reopens, the museum will sell Pope’s wares in the Jepson Center gift shop. In its support of local initiatives during the pandemic, the museum also has ordered hand sanitizer locally from Ghost Coast Distillery on Indian Street and is exploring more ways to collaborate with other businesses and artists.
“Local artists like Jessica Pope have used their creativity and skill to help others and bring joy to people during these uncertain times,” says Erin Dunn, Telfair’s Associate Curator of Modern and Contemporary art. “Facing this unprecedented crisis together as a community, Telfair Museums is eager to partner with local artists and businesses to reopen safely for visitors.”
To learn more about Buck and Doe masks, visit buckanddoegoods.com/masks.
To learn more about Telfair Museums and its virtual offerings during the pandemic closure, visit telfair.org/telfair-today.