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St. Petersburg artist paints portraits of those who died of COVID-19

Margaret 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.
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 ]
Published Apr. 29
Updated May 4

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.

St. Petersburg artist Margaret Bayalis adds detail to the eyes of a portrait for Raj Kumar of St. Petersburg. Kumar requested this portrait for his neighbor, who died of COVID-19. The deceased man’s wife and children now live in India. Kumar will be traveling there to visit them and to present them with the memorial portrait.
St. Petersburg artist Margaret Bayalis adds detail to the eyes of a portrait for Raj Kumar of St. Petersburg. Kumar requested this portrait for his neighbor, who died of COVID-19. The deceased man’s wife and children now live in India. Kumar will be traveling there to visit them and to present them with the memorial portrait. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

“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.

Margaret Bayalis' collage of the portraits she has made of victims of COVID-19.
Margaret Bayalis' collage of the portraits she has made of victims of COVID-19. [ Courtesy of Margaret Bayalis ]

“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 Bayalis pick up a new technique.

Margaret Bayalis uses oil paints to create portraits as a way to help survivors heal from the loss of their loved ones who have died from COVID-19.
Margaret Bayalis uses oil paints to create portraits as a way to help survivors heal from the loss of their loved ones who have died from COVID-19. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

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 group 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 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.”

From left, paintings by St. Petersburg artist Margaret Bayalis: a portrait for Amanda Kuppler of Sarasota of Kuppler's grandmother, Rosemary, who died last May; a portrait of Charles Albert Biedermann, who died in August 2020; and a portrait for Jose Conceiçao of Porto, Portugal, of his 73-year-old father, who died in February.
From left, paintings by St. Petersburg artist Margaret Bayalis: a portrait for Amanda Kuppler of Sarasota of Kuppler's grandmother, Rosemary, who died last May; a portrait of Charles Albert Biedermann, who died in August 2020; and a portrait for Jose Conceiçao of Porto, Portugal, of his 73-year-old father, who died in February. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

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.”

Margaret Bayalis' portrait of Gary Joseph Eccher.
Margaret Bayalis' portrait of Gary Joseph Eccher. [ Courtesy of Margaret Bayalis ]

Davis looks at the tribute every day and has been sharing it on social media to show that “he’s a face, not a number.”

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.”

Those interested in having a portrait made can email Bayalis at margaret@bayalistudio.com or visit the Faces Not Numbers page on Facebook.

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