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Self Portraits with a Mask: Beauty in the Time of Covid

November 17, 2020 | Heather Palmer Welesko

In Project Time for most of the Fall term, students have been practicing the skill of watercolor and applying this skill to creating a self-portrait. The mask is not simply an addition, but an important element of the self portrait in the times of Covid. Why the mask? Doesn’t the mask hide the faces of the children? Doesn’t the mask drum up the difficulty of this time?

Yes, perhaps. But it has never been art’s place to avoid pain, says Mr. Johnson in one of his Seesaw videos. And it is the artist’s job to speak the truth and to show the truth’s beauty.

The mask is both a marker of this time and a way to foster creativity–especially when one’s face is covered. How the child decorates his/ her mask is a unique expression.

Us teachers encourage you to ask your child why he/she choose the mask they did. Thank you for continuing to talk to your children during/about difficult times, for leading and showing how beauty can shine through us, even now, even with a mask on.

Notice: not every student’s self portrait is here. There is no special selection for which paintings would be on the blog. All of the portraits are beautiful. Rather, these portraits were “chosen” because they are finished and on display.

“It’s nice to show that you can embrace hard times and stand through it and endure it. I am not necessarily happy to see it on my self-portrait but I don’t feel like….[monster sounds]. I feel more like, ‘Yay’.” Kai Padron

“I am very, very proud of my mask…I was a bit surprised because I was, ‘Why did we have to do our lips if we are going to cover it?’ But I realized we want to do the whole thing; we don’t want to do part of it. When we want put our heart to it, we want to do it anyway.” Isabelle Hu

“I am thinking of putting the mask of our self-portrait; it’s just really different. Because all the times we drew the self-portrait…and our self-portraits, when I put them against my other self-portraits, it will definitely look unique. And then I’ll remember, ‘Oh yeah, we were going through Covid times. It’s different, but in a good way.” Zoe Cassadyho


“I am proud of the mask, and why? I like it because I love the shape and I love the words in it. It says ‘I love Math.’…I feel good and bad [that the mask covers the face]. The good part is I can still see my mouth [we’re not covering it up permanently]. The bad part is I’m sad that we’re wearing masks in school. It makes me sad sometimes.” Kira Mech



Heather Palmer Welesko

Literacy and Assistant Teacher, Grades 4 & 5

Heather Welesko has taught at Mustard Seed School for nearly a decade as a literacy and assistant teacher. She has taught literature and writing at Kean University and Harold Washington College of Chicago. Heather holds an MFA in writing and poetry from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and an MA in Leadership and Spiritual Formation from Evangelical Seminary.

Ms. Welesko is enthusiastic about professional development, and has advanced training in the Handwriting Without Tears program; the Fountas and Pinnell Guided Reading Program, and the Responsive Classroom/ Development Designs Program through Origin. She continues professional develop through The Columbia University Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. She’s passionate about literature, creativity, comprehensive education, and believes strongly in teaching identity and diversity awareness and inclusion.

Ms. Welesko is a poet, artist, and yogi, and is still, always learning.

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