Bayalis gives them to grieving families for free.
St. Petersburg artist Margaret Bayalis adds detail to the eyes of a portrait at her home studio. She paints the portraits of people who have died from COVID-19 and gives them to loved ones free of charge. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
By Maggie Duffy
Last October, St. Petersburg artist Margaret Bayalis, feeling burned out by the pandemic, was grappling with how to respond to it visually.
She came up with the idea to offer free painted portraits of people who died from COVID-19 to their loved ones. She reached out on the social media app Next Door and immediately got a few requests.
Soon, word spread and she was getting queries from as far as Hawaii, Portugal and India.
“I never dreamed it would go so far when I started” Bayalis said.
To date, she’s created more than 50 portraits. Along the way, she created a collage of them.
“The numbers are upsetting,” she said. “When I look at my collage, it seems like so many, but it’s a drop in the bucket compared to the numbers even in Florida. It’s overwhelming.”
Primarily a landscape painter, switching to portraiture was a “journey” that helped her pick up a new technique.
In January, she started a Facebook group called Faces Not Numbers and invited other artists to join her mission. So far, more than 20 artists have joined and the page has 200 members.
The group’s mission is to “use the healing power of art to create memorial portraits, free of charge, of individuals lost to COVID-19 in an effort to comfort families and raise awareness of the pandemic’s toll on life.”
Bayalis has made connections with the people who she’s given portraits to. She said that while she paints the subjects, she feels like she’s spending time with them and “honoring the lives they led.”
Pamela Davis of St. Petersburg reached out to Bayalis after seeing the Facebook group. She lost her brother, Gary Joseph Eccher, in January. Bayalis offered to do a portrait of him and worked from his prayer card.
“She captured every aspect of his features, even the dark circles under his eyes,” Davis said. She broke down when she first saw it and called Bayalis a “wonderful woman.”
For Bayalis, the project has helped her cope with the pandemic and allowed her to interact with more people than ever.
“In terms of being rewarding, there’s no way to measure it,” she said. “It’s been a real nice reciprocal thing.”
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