Grace Marschall could explain the meaning behind every detail she painted or glued onto her mask last week at John Marshall High School.

For instance, the 15-year-old freshman could explain how the word "okay" painted over the mouth represents the message she tries to portray to the rest of the world, even if it betrays her real pain inside. She could explain that the three cogs glued on the mask’s forehead show that her new thoughts don’t fit well with her old ones. And she could explain how the bandage painted onto the other side of the forehead represents healing.

Grace was only one of the teenagers sitting around the table that day, and every student’s mask had a different story behind it. Together, they were part of the support group coordinated by Seasons Hospice’s Center for Grief Education and Support. The group is meant to support students who are dealing with the death of a loved one.

Grace lost her friend Landy.

Just as each mask had a story behind it, so did the art project as a whole. Heidi Smith, a certified grief support specialist with Seasons Hospice, said there was a reason why they chose that specific project in the first place.

"We heard from students that they felt like they needed to wear a mask — that they couldn’t be their real selves at school," she said. "Through our groups, we wanted to offer at least an hour a week when they could take off their mask and talk about their grief."

In addition to helping each of the students process their grief, the masks will also be part of an exhibit, starting March 19 at Rochester Art Center. The display will feature the masks, as well as photographs of the students who made them, and a video of interviews with the students.

They all have stories.

John Marshall junior Sirena Finnie lost her grandmother in 2012 and her father in August 2019. She painted part of her mask deep blue.

"My grandmother, she loved blue — that was her color," Sirena said.

She painted another strip black to represent a lack of hope. She painted the third strip light blue to represent the better place she hopes to find.

While dipping her brush in a blob of paint across the table from Grace, another freshman, Carmen McSmith, explained how she also lost her grandmother.

For Carmen, being able to share her grief with other students going through the same thing helped her gain some perspective.

"(It) makes you just feel like you’re not crazy," she said. "Adults, they see it as ‘You’ll get over it; it’s not a big deal.’ But then, when you hear about other people feeling that way, then it makes you feel like you’re not the only one."

The support groups are also in Mayo and Century high schools, as well as two of Rochester’s middle schools.

Some students who have gone through the support groups already had a chance to share their stories. The masks of an earlier group of students were hung in Rochester’s downtown skyways.

Carolyn Piepho, director of development and communications for Seasons Hospice, said they decided to do another round of masks after they were so well-received by the students and the public.

Smith said displaying the masks is a way to help the students feel like their stories are being heard.

She also sees the chance to display the masks in the gallery as perhaps one more way for students to connect with each other and help each other recover.

"My dream is that these kids from all different schools would come together and meet each other, so they can know they’re not alone," Smith said. "And that was actually one of the catalysts for doing this at the art center — we’re hoping these students can meet each other and know that grief encapsulates so many people ... many people wear a mask, and we have no idea what’s going on (with them)."

What: "Grief Unmasked"

When:10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, March 19-May 16

Where:Rochester Art Center, 40 Civic Center Drive SE

Contact:For admission information, call the art center at 507-282-8629.

Online:  http://rochesterartcenter.org/exhibition/grief-unmasked/