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Form and Function: An Artist’s Response to Mask Shortages During COVID-19

By Amy Matzke-Fawcett

When the need for personal protective equipment arises, artists aren't at the forefront of most people's minds. But for Alison Stinely, assistant professor of painting the Department of Art at ODU, she immediately knew her skills could be of use.

Stinely uses 3-D printing as part of her mixed media art and knew she could translate her skills into creating masks to donate to local healthcare workers. She started by assisting ODU's engineering faculty by 3-D printing masks of their design, but transitioned to her own design after finding available R95 filter pads for sale online.

Most masks are based around the N95 filter pads, but Stinely found that the similar R95s were more readily available and could be used in her modified mask design.

"Artists are problems solvers. We are inquisitive and eager to find solutions and we are not afraid to veer off the beaten path and attempt the unexpected," Stinely said. "Some believe artists are only concerned with beauty, but we are actually quite good at merging both form and function."

The mask body, cap, gasket, and strap clips are all 3D printed using Polylactic Acid, a common printing material, so it was readily available and donated by ODU's Art Department. The body and cap are then sealed using an acrylic spray plus two coats of marine epoxy to fill in any tiny layer gaps that aren't visible to the naked eye. Upholstery foam is placed along the edge of the mask for a snug fit and is finished with a coating of skin-safe silicone to compensate for the foam's porosity.

Using widely available materials was important to Stinely, as she plans to share her designs with others in the 3-D printing community. It's common to share plans in the community she said, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic when so many are making PPE's and other projects on their printers.

The first batch of masks, which total about 30, will be donated to ODU Nursing students who are doing clinicals in operating and delivery rooms and will not receive their PPE for six to eight weeks due to shortages and delays from COVID-19. Stinely hopes to donate the rest to local nursing homes.

Stinely will also share her designs May 28 at 7 p.m. during the online event "Behind the Mask: Form & Function of An Artist's Response." The online gathering is part of Science Pub ODU, an opportunity for anyone to have casual conversations with ODU researchers out in the community. The events are normally held in local breweries, but have transitioned online during the campus' closure in an abundance of caution due to COVID-19.

This is Stinely's second appearance in Science Pubs, having given a talk in 2018 called "3-D Printing: Merging Antiquity & New Technology in Art Making."

Visit the Science Pubs website for more information on the event and to RSVP by May 27. Follow Stinely on Instagram for updates on the mask-making process.

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