Brenau gets creative for a good cause

Array of brightly colored masks
Jordyn De La Rosa’s medical masks (Photo courtesy of Jordyn De La Rosa)

Since the coronavirus outbreak, Brenau University senior fashion design major Jordyn De La Rosa has been busy — not only finishing up classes to graduate but also participating in the Million Mask Challenge.

A grassroots effort that began in the Washington, D.C., area, the Million Mask Challenge has become a national movement aimed at addressing the critical shortage of personal protective equipment, or PPE, for those on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’m not a frontliner, a doctor or a nurse,” De La Rosa said. “I can’t help sick people.”

But what she can do is sew.

In between her studies, De La Rosa has made hundreds of face masks to donate to hospitals, fire and police departments, pharmacies and other locations where they are needed most. Like so many others around the country, she felt compelled to use her talents to help out in any way she could.

“This is just a small part that I can do to help people feel more protected and safer in this very uncertain time in our lives,” De La Rosa said. “It’s also been a really nice creative outlet and a really nice distraction.”

Charity Armstead, assistant professor and fashion merchandising program director, is involved in two research studies on the mask-making phenomenon. One compares home knitting for the Red Cross during World Wars I and II with the home sewing of masks for hospitals during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Although it’s been 75 years since the end of World War II, there are remarkable similarities,” Armstead said. “In all instances, the country relied on women’s unpaid handcraft work to cover shortfalls in supplies for workers on the front lines of a crisis.”

Armstead said her research found that handcrafting during a global crisis is a way for people to feel that they are contributing to a greater cause, and it is used as a coping mechanism.

Image of face shield
3D printed face mask. (Photo courtesy by Huy Chu)

“The most notable difference is that, due to today’s technology and the need for social distancing, the social aspect of the volunteer work has moved online, and these networks are virtual,” she said.

Huy Chu, studio art program director and assistant professor of studio, has also joined in the PPE movement. He is in the process of making homemade face shields for frontline workers using Brenau’s 3D printers, which he took home when classes moved from on-ground to online.

The shields consist of 3D-printed thermoplastic forehead bands and use transparency sheets that attach to cover the face. Chu joined the group Atlanta Face Shields, made up of volunteers who are coordinating efforts to produce and distribute the shields to medical professionals.

“Community outreach is not only an essential mission of Brenau’s Center for the Arts & Design, but it is also at the heart of Brenau,” Chu said. “We already have the technology, so now we are using it to help others.”

With Brenau’s physical campuses closed to the public (the university remains open online, by email and by phone), Brenau Galleries also had to get creative. Virtual exhibitions of three of its recent shows can now be found online at They include:

  • “L.A. Stories,” featuring works by a variety of West Coast artists as curated by California artist and educator Paul Paiement.
  • “House and Universe,” a collection of works by New York-based artist Margaret Evangeline.
  • And a selection of oil paintings and watercolors by American artist Charles Webster Hawthorne from the collection of longtime Brenau supporters Doug and Kay Ivester. Doug Ivester has been a member of the Brenau Board of Trustees since 1989.

“It was important to find new ways to connect with our audience,” said Assistant Gallery Director Allison Lauricella, who conceived the idea. “A ton of work goes into preparing our exhibitions, and we wanted to be able to share these incredible artworks with our patrons.”

Brenau Galleries also recently held a social distancing self-portrait contest on social media.

Claudia Wilburn, CAD director and Art & Design Department chair, said she is proud of all of the efforts of her students and colleagues.

“The CAD community has really risen to the challenge of this changing tide and surpassed expectations by engaging in community service activities,” she said. “In addition to mask-making and online virtual exhibitions, we have focused on research and experimentation with new media and cultural changes, and we continue to stay connected with colleges and students via phone, Zoom and social media.”