Months of boring quarantine can fly by if you’re wholeheartedly involved in something that also brings a sense of accomplishment.
Gilbert artist Vita Nicolosi is in that happy existence during the pandemic.
Shelving art aside, Nicolosi enlisted the help of her daughter-in-law, Gina Nicolosi, to sew masks.
They haven’t looked back since.
Nicolosi made the first mask on March 21. Now, working 12 hours daily, the total hovers at 6,000.
“We are not bored. There are days we ask ourselves: ‘it’s Friday? Where did the week go?’” Nicolosi said. “We have lost time. We don’t even know what time of day it is most days.”
When the pandemic began, Nicolosi was contacted by an anesthesiologist who needed some masks for surgical procedures.
“We worked endlessly together and created masks that worked. They ended up bringing material that they wrapped their instruments in and we started cutting and sewing as a family,” she said.
When that task was completed, Gina was contacted by a parent whose daughter was serving at the Air Force Base in Texas and asked if they could create masks so they could continue training.
“We did just that. We found material with ‘USA’ on it and sent 50 to 75 masks. We were then contacted by people to create masks to wear around town,” Nicolosi said.
The requests began snowballing and there is no end in sight. They have set-up a Facebook page called V & G Mask Makers for orders that are pouring in each day.
The extended family lives on an acre property in southeast Gilbert.
Gina wakes up at 5 a.m. and starts the mask making at around 6. She washes, irons and cuts the fabric and passes it to Nicolosi who attaches the pieces together and places the ear pieces.
In between, Gina does other household chores including cooking dinner, paying bills, shopping for groceries and obtaining fabric supplies.
“I get right back to work when that is complete,” she said. “I have cut masks until midnight at times.”
Gina’s daughter, Gianna, sometimes helps out by taking over the chores on days they have too much to accomplish.
“Mask making is done in stages. It’s not sitting and sewing 100 percent of the time. We have found ourselves engrossed in this project and just want to help so many,” Nicolosi said. “It’s hard to sit still.”
They donated the first 3,000 masks. But now that supplies are dwindling and the expenses are climbing, they charge a nominal fee: $5 for a regular size mask, $6 for an extra-large mask and $3 for a kid’s size. Some masks are still donated as well.
Nicolosi noted that fabric is gradually increasing in price and also being hoarded in the manner that toilet paper was stockpiled when the pandemic began.
At the outset, Gina answered an email from Joann Fabrics asking sewers to make masks. The store donated the supplies but they didn’t like the style of masks they were asked to create.
So, Nicolosi changed the style.
“The mask today that we create is soft on the ears,” she said. They are also 100 percent cotton and comfortable to wear/breath in for long hours.
The masks are distributed from their front porch in Gilbert, by mail or delivery if the recipient has a medical issue that makes it difficult to leave the home.
Nicolosi has also shipped several boxes of masks to her hometown of Corleone, Sicily, where 100-percent cotton fabric is unavailable.
Nicolosi, whose family moved from Sicily to Illinois when she was a child, has lived in Gilbert for five years. Her husband, John, also hails from Corleone, Sicily. Their son, Frank, is general manager of Earnhardt Ford.
Besides sewing, when she was a teenager, her mom taught her painting, mosaic work and other artistic skills.
“I have art that runs through my veins from my family in Corleone, Sicilia,” she said.
Nicolosi paints in acrylic and also creates cold porcelain, a dough out of which she fashions objects such as birds and flowers and adds a three-dimensional quality to her canvases.
She maintains a page on Facebook called Art by Vita.
A member of Gilbert Visual Art League, she was preparing for an art show when the pandemic hit.
“Vita is outgoing, energetic, positive and kind,” said Donna Finter, a league board member. She used to sing professionally and shares her enthusiasm for life through song and visual art. Her paintings are brightly colored and influenced by her Sicilian roots, nature and her Christian faith.”
Deeply spiritual, Nicolosi and Gina believe that God wanted them to create masks and help people during this difficult time.
Nicolosi herself went through a difficult time with her youngest child, who had a disability and has since passed.
“It is hard to deal with at times, but with the Lord’s help I can turn to my hurt for healing,” she said.
For Gina, the vocation to help others is important. “I do what I have to do so people in our community are safe,” she said. “I will do this until I can’t anymore.”
Nicolosi has no regrets about helping others either; she hopes to resume her creative work soon. “My art work is on hold for now. I will be making masks for as long as it is needed or that we can physically do this,” she said.
Contact Vita Nicolosi and Gina Nicolosi via the Facebook page V & G Mask Makers.
Vita’s art is on the Facebook page, Art by Vita.