Students and faculty members in UA Little Rock’s Department of Theatre Arts and Dance began the fall semester with a fashion-forward surprise.
Don Bolinger, UA Little Rock’s costume shop manager, put his creative license to the task to create masks for the department’s more than 60 students and seven faculty members.
While his regular job of creating costumes and other props for the university’s theatrical productions has been put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this has given Bolinger another outlet for his talents. Rather than just cranking out mask after mask as soon as possible, Bolinger has taken the time to carefully explore the types and patterns of masks that work best.
“Don began researching cloth mask patterns that were used around the world,” said Dr. Yslan Hicks, chair of the Department of Theatre Arts and Dance. “He discovered or drafted the mask patterns and began a process of searching for the most effective, comfortable, and wearable masks. He made the patterns into masks and began a testing process during which he and I and multiple others within our circle of friends began wearing the masks in public. Don accomplished this on his own time. He made the effort and funded the endeavor as a support to each of us during this terrible time.”
So far, Bolinger has made hundreds of masks, including those for the students, faculty, and his family and friends. The masks come in a wide variety of patterns, including comic book heroes, ballerinas, a nod to Arkansas tourism, Peanuts characters, an African Ankara print, and even a medieval doctor mask from the Black Plague era.
“I found some fun stuff and a lot of abstract fabrics,” Bolinger said. “I’ve found lips, mustaches, animal noses, interesting things like that. That’s the fun part for me, finding novelty prints that make people smile.”
He’s also enjoyed the challenge of creating masks that fit best for different people.
“I guess fit is what I was most concerned about while making the masks,” Bolinger said. “I want them to fit for different-sized faces. The very first mask I made smashed my nose, so I realized that wouldn’t be comfortable for everybody. I looked on YouTube and Google for inspiration for my masks. One of mine is a hybrid that is shaped like a Korean mask on the top but has pleating. I elongated it to adapt it for men with beards.”
Bolinger’s creative juices haven’t been put to rest. In the future, he is considering creating gaiter-style masks that also cover a person’s neck or face shields using two-liter pop bottles.