Drawings To Keep Us Safe

Jul 14, 2020

Maria Nicolai and her posters.
Credit Jon Cochrane

There are some brightly colored signs around Bethel telling people to wear masks and wash their hands during the pandemic. These aren’t just words. They are engaging pictures, designed for Bethel Family Clinic by a local woman. 

When she’s not working at the local bank, Maria Nicolai, a self-taught graphic designer and artist, produces logos and drawings. For the Bethel Family Clinic’s COVID posters, she used a computer.

“Some of the software I used are P25, Photoshop, Quick-Studio,” Nicolai explained.

The posters portray people wearing kuspuks, images familiar to Nicolai, who grew up in Bethel and Kwethluk. The figures also all wear masks.

“They don’t have any faces, but they are pretty brightly colored, and they’re something eye-catching, and something easily recognizable," she said.

Nicolai started making images as a small child, when her mother gave her paper and crayons. While drawing, she was off in her own world, telling stories. 

“They weren’t comic strips, because I don’t think I knew how to write yet. They were just sort of reacting to things, like, 'Oh no, the volcano is exploding!' It probably wouldn’t make any sense to anyone looking at the drawing themselves, but it made sense to me, and it was fun for me.”

Drawing became a family activity.  Her mother and grandmother helped her out when she was very young. Now, in the face of COVID-19, Nicolai is working on a children’s book to tell a different kind of story about the pandemic.

“It’s just been a big upheaval for kids,” she explained, “and they’d probably appreciate knowing what’s going on, and some reassurance that everything is going to be okay.”

Nicolai doesn’t know how she’ll publish the book, but judging from the past, this home-grown Bethel artist will get it done. Meanwhile, her posters are already in the community, reminding residents to be safe by wearing masks, keeping their distance, and washing their hands.  You can see more of Nicolai’s work on