COVID-19 Animal Mask


On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that the COVID-19 outbreak had become a pandemic. On April 3, 2020, the CDC recommended that Americans wear face masks when they were in public spaces and unable to maintain a social distance of 6 feet or more. In the initial aftermath of this declaration, N95 masks were extremely difficult to find and some Americans began to make their own masks. Many of these mask makers responded to soaring COVID rates and the ubiquitous shortage of masks by making and donating masks for communities which were suffering disproportionately from the pandemic.

Russell Bennett, a resident of Washington DC, became one of these mask makers. Because masks were in short supply after the CDC recommended mask-wearing and because he was bored at home, Bennett began making masks for himself and a few friends. As an eighth grader in rural Indiana during the 1990s, Bennett had learned to sew in school. Unlike many Americans, he owned a sewing machine and he used this along with old bed sheets, which had inset bias tape, to make masks. Over the course of several days, he made over fifty masks, many of which he offered to colleagues. Hearing from friends who also needed masks, he began making and distributing masks, especially for friends who were front-line workers in places like bakeries.

When he went to Fire Island for a wedding in the summer of 2020, he made a series of coordinating masks for his husband and a friend. Among these masks was a Pride Rainbow mask. Having made more of these masks than he needed, he offered the extra masks on Facebook. “From there,” Bennett noted, “everything exploded, I had no idea how many people needed masks, my friends snatched them up immediately, and I knew I needed more.” He began making masks on a large scale and even taught a friend how to make masks. Bennett’s masks used fabrics with varied designs.

Bennett took two approaches to his mask distribution: he offered them for free and encouraged those who could afford to do so to pay a small nominal fee which he then distributed to charity.

Between the summer of 2020 and April of 2021, when he ceased to make masks, he made roughly 1,200 masks and collected about $2,000 for various charities, including Whitman Walker Health, a clinic in Washington DC; Planned Parenthood; and a local animal shelter. Many of the masks he made used fabrics with specific designs which he then tied to a charity. Money raised from animal themed masks went, for example, to the animal shelter while several masks with penises were sold to benefit Whitman-Walker clinic which specializes in HIV/AIDS healthcare.

Bennett’s mask making illustrates the ways in which Americans responded to the pandemic by creating and distributing home-made masks to those in need. His use of theme-fabrics such as the

rainbow flag and animals also provide insight into how many Americans found community and comfort during the pandemic.

Date Made: 2020

Maker: Bennett, Russell C.

Location: Currently not on view

Place Made: United States: District of Columbia, Washington

General Subject Association; Referenced; Used: COVID-19 (Disease)General Subject Association; Used; Web Subject: COVID-19 PandemicPublic HealthPhilanthropyDepicted; General Subject Association; Web Subject: PetsRelated Event: COVID-19 Pandemic, 2020-2023


See more items in: Medicine and Science: Medicine


Exhibition Location:

Credit Line: Russell Bennett

Data Source: National Museum of American History

Id Number: 2022.0209.02Catalog Number: 2022.0209.02Accession Number: 2022.0209

Object Name: face mask

Physical Description: fabric (overall material)Measurements: overall: 4 1/2 in x 12 1/4 in x 1 in; 11.43 cm x 31.115 cm x 2.54 cm


Record Id: nmah_2021018

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