Des Moines Artist Creates ’90 Days of Heroes’ Tribute

Special Reports

DES MOINES, Iowa — Julie Houghton has been creating art for decades, usually, the kind of art that’s left to be interpreted. However, her latest project portrays a concept much easier to understand and one we all can relate to.

When the pandemic reduced her hours at Des Moines Performing Arts, Houghton was intentional about not letting her extra free time go to waste.

“Sometimes it’s the most obvious things that make great projects you know. You can think and think and overthink. My mask was laying on the table and I decided to draw it and one thing led to another,” she laughs. “Then my daughter said why don’t you color in the mask and leave the rest of it black and white and I thought that was a pretty good idea!”

A post to Facebook requesting her followers to send in a selfie in their favorite masks generated an overwhelming response. Houghton then committed to drawing 90 portraits for 90 days; part New Year’s resolution, part pandemic pastime. She scans the original portrait onto paper that she later traces, colors and shades. At the bottom of each picture, she includes the total number of Iowans and Americans who have tested positive for the virus.

“I remember hearing when Biden was president-elect asking the American people to wear a mask for 90 days to see if we could flatten the curve and that 90 days stuck in my mind,” said Houghton.

The masked portraits aren’t meant to be political but instead a showcase of progress and perseverance.

“This is just like a small aspect of the whole COVID-19 thing. I thought through these portraits it might bring a little levity,” Houghton explained.

Houghton will complete her “90 Days of Heroes” tribute at the end of March. A project she hopes to have displayed in an art gallery someday as a reminder of what Iowans endured together.

“I think that’s kind of cool to see people’s personalities come out in that fabric that they are wearing on their face,” she smiles. “It makes me feel great that so many people are enthusiastic and that I’m able to share this with them and it will mark a moment in time as well as mine.”

To submit a mask portrait or to view Houghton’s work, click here.

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