Apostrophe Puzzles by Mandi Masden – ARTnews.com

As a child, Brooklyn actress Mandi Masden loved doing puzzles. But as she got older, the joys of the puzzle were largely forgotten, that is, until one night in 2019 when she mentioned she was confusing while performing a spoken word piece in the living room of art from a friend.

Shortly after, her friend, who until then had been unaware of how important puzzles had been to Masden, gave her a special birthday present: a personalized puzzle featuring a painting that Masden had seen and dreamed of. to own, but could not. can’t afford to buy.

The gift made Masden realize how even more confusing she would be if the puzzles themselves reflected her passions, especially her cultural and aesthetic interests as a black woman. But there was limited diversity in the puzzle market, she says, a reflection of the country’s art space in general: According to recent studies, more than 85% of the works displayed in major American museums are by artists white, and more than 80% of American artists represented by the best galleries in New York are also white.

Vinita Karim, Bengal Blue
Mandi Masden

So Masden asked herself: how could art enthusiasts like her engage and learn about the work of artists of color in this largely non-inclusive environment? And how could they do it in a way that would also allow artists to benefit financially?

It was then that Masden had an idea: she would create and sell a line of curated puzzles featuring work by contemporary artists of color, who would also share in the profits. And with that, Apostrophe Puzzles was born.

To bring the brand to life, Masden went into conservative mode, scouring the internet for artwork that truly matched her interests, then “following artists until they created something that would make a great jigsaw puzzle. “, she says.

The logistics of making high-quality puzzles, however, involved a steep learning curve. “It was super easy to make the decision to start the business,” says Masden, “but figuring out how to run it and make the puzzles was very difficult – I had no experience in that.” For months, she struggled to find an American manufacturer, finally deciding to go with what she calls a “wonderful” overseas company.

Mandi Masden's Apostrophe Puzzles

Added to the usual difficulties of creating a start-up are the unforeseen obstacles created by the outbreak of the pandemic. Masden, who designed the brand before the coronavirus hit, suddenly found herself facing a whole new set of obstacles. “This was a self-funded project, without a major financial bank,” she says, “so figuring out prices and international shipping delays during the pandemic was extremely stressful and expensive.”

Yet the crisis has also had another, equally unexpected, effect on the business: puzzles, among other games, have suddenly become hugely popular as a quarantine activity, creating a market that is hungrier than ever for new images. .

When Masden released the first collection of Apostrophe Puzzles in early 2021, the response was overwhelming. A second collection followed, hitting the market this spring. Today, a little over a year later, the brand is present in 30 stores around the world, as well as in 70 museums.

Mandi Masden's Apostrophe Puzzles

Nidhi Mariam Jacob, Fantasy Garden #7

“It’s amazing that museums recognize and use our puzzles to welcome people of color into their space,” says Masden. “Covid brought the puzzle back, and a lot of POC, no longer feeling ignored, came back to it through our puzzles. They say to me: ‘Finally, I see art that looks like me, that resonates with me.’ »

The predominantly white puzzle community on Instagram has also been hugely supportive of Apostrophe, Masden adds. “Having been confusing for years, they too recognize how exclusive the puzzle industry has been and have been very encouraging to want to see various images.”

Both puzzle collections feature a wide variety of styles – floral, abstract, mixed media, landscape. The second also offers puzzles of varying difficulty, suitable for different skill levels. “Some puzzlers need immediate gratification and won’t gravitate toward [more time-consuming] puzzles,” says Masden, “while meditative puzzlers don’t shy away from dwelling on a puzzle. It also hopes to release a third collection this fall, adding 500-piece puzzles — a favorite of younger and older players — to the 1,000-piece sets in current collections.

Mandi Masden's Apostrophe Puzzles

Tim Okamura, Rosie #1

Unsurprisingly, fans have also been appreciative of the high quality of the art and the puzzles themselves, allowing them to be enjoyed as more than just games. “You don’t just want to put them together and pull them apart,” she explains, “you potentially want to frame them and hang them too.”

Of course, in addition to offering more diverse art to aficionados, another top priority for Masden is ensuring that Apostrophe generates a healthy income for the artists whose works it showcases. They receive a 12% royalty on each of their puzzles sold – a rate that, while higher than the industry average, is one she would like to one day increase. A percentage of proceeds also goes to Apostrophe’s nonprofit partner Project Art, which works with public libraries to provide free after-school classes to historically deprived communities of color.

As Masden summarizes, Aspostrophe Puzzles supports “arts education, access to the arts, and payment for the arts.” Talk about a game changer.

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