The lion outside of the Art Institute (all images courtesy the Art Institute of Chicago)

Yesterday, the two famed lions at the Art Institute of Chicago were equipped with oversized surgical masks decorated by the iconic Chicago flag.

Anyone who has visited the Windy City has likely seen the animals on Michigan Avenue, so they were symbolically outfitted with masks ahead of Governor J.B. Pritzker’s order that state residents wear face coverings in public starting today, May 1.

But one of the masks was quickly snatched, leaving one lion unprotected from passersby in the downtown Chicago area. A museum guard told police he saw two men climb one of the lions and steal the three-foot-wide mask around 11pm last night.

Katie Murphy, public affairs executive director for the institute, says the initiative started from a suggestion by the mayor’s office to encourage Chicagoans to employ masks as part of their daily preventative measures when out in public. A Picasso sculpture in Daley Center also got a mask.

The masks are three-feet-wide to fit the oversized statues.

“We’re trying to encourage people to make masks and donate them and we think it would be great if some landmarks in Chicago also wore masks to sort of spread awareness and show a sense of unity that we’re all in this together,” Murphy said, according to NBC Chicago.

At the fitting on Tuesday, Kelly Winter of the Chicago agency Dimension Design, who designed and sewed the masks, said they would be easy to replace in case anyone stole a mask from one of the statues. (In 1985, the lions wore Bears helmets during the football team’s championship season, and the headgear was burglarized multiple times.)

One of the lions’ masks was stolen less than 24 hours after they were installed.

Jasmine Weber is an artist, writer, and former news editor at Hyperallergic. Follow her on Instagram and