Faces of COVID victims on display as part of special library project
A special exhibit at the William E. Durr branch of the Kenton County Public Library in Independence highlights the lives lost here during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Christian Schmit, a programmer at the library who is also an artist, came up with the idea. The library reached out to its clients earlier this year and asked them to share a photo of a loved one who died from the virus along with a short biography.
The result is a series of portraits and stories now on display.
âSometimes it seems so huge that you don’t even know who to turn to, with Covid and the pandemic,â said Katelyn Wolary, one of the 22 artists who turned pictures into portraits. “And that brings it down to a level that we can all understand. We can all feel that we are giving something beneficial and positive.”
There are twenty-four portraits drawn by the artists. People who responded were mostly from northern Kentucky, but library director Faith Mulberry said people responded from as far away as Italy.
All 24 portraits are on display at the Durr branch of the library until August 6.
The project had an impact on the people whose loved ones have passed away, as well as the artists who delved into the lines of the face, the smile, and the few phrases that defined the living and breathing person in the photograph.
“Art does something that numbers can’t do,” said Ron Prigat, another of the artists, “which is to give you a personal sense of loss and the experience of people.”
A short film was also made, documenting two of the people pictured among those hanging on the wall. The movie is called The Portrait Covid project.
Susan Kinsella wanted her husband Scott to be included. She mentioned that he had several bird feeders that he kept continually stocked. He loved to feed birds, she says, and she knows he misses birds. Kinsella said Scott was devoted to his family and was crazy about his sons.
Prigat was the artist who drew Scott’s portrait. He said he could see from his photo that Scott was smiling from the inside out, and there was so much he could say about that smile.
âCapturing the mind is very powerful,â said Prigat. âPeople say, for good reason, that the eyes are the window to the soul. So you want to have righteous eyes. But there is more than just a technique there, because intention is not is not necessarily, not for me personally, to reproduce a photograph, but to create something different and to capture something essential. “
Bonnie Yates described Jim Hunt as a companion, a grandfather known as Pop and someone who suffered from ALS in addition to Covid.
Wolary was the artist who drew the portrait of Jim.
âI can just say he was a good person,â she said. “Like, you can see it in the way he was smiling and the way they had their arms around each other. You can just feel that kind of positivity.”
“He never complained, he never said ‘poor about me’, or asked why this was happening to him,” Yates said. “He just took it day to day, that’s how we used to live.”
She said he was truly a wonderful man, and she thought he would be so surprised if his picture hung in the exhibit.
Robin Klaene, director of public relations and development at the library, said this project was carried out at no cost to participants to help those suffering from enormous loss.
âA photo is wonderful, but the portraits of the artists bring a whole new feeling to both the artist and the loved one,â she said. âNow, until the first week of August, all of the portraits are on display in a quiet salon in the Durr branch. Along with the art, there is a short biography about each person that takes you back to a happier time. . It really is an amazing project. “
See the images of the exhibition online here.
Written by Patricia A. Scheyer, RCN contributor
Picture: Raymond Wallace, as drawn by Marylin Wilson. Wallace died of COVID-19 in January. He lived in Covington for all of his 72 years, except for his time in the military.