Local artists will paint portraits of people who died from COVID-19

Families may submit photos and stories about loved ones, and a panel of artists will pick at least 10 to memorialize with a portrait.

Elsa Bekkala had seen the role of nurses and other healthcare workers during the coronavirus pandemic. But she wondered what artists like her, who are not on the front lines of treating critically ill patients, could do to support people affected by COVID-19.

Elsa Bekkala

She found her answer in the arts.

With the backing of the Hopkinsville Art Guild, Bekkala announced this week that several local artists have agreed to paint portraits of people who died of COVID-19.

“I was looking at everything that the nurses have done, and everyone in the medical profession,” Bekkala told Hoptown Chronicle. “I thought, how could I as an artist do something to help these families?”

She took her idea to the art guild.

An artist whose work includes portraits painted on copper, Bekkala has been involved with the art guild for several years. The organization signed onto the pandemic project and recruited artists who would be willing to paint portraits for local families. 

At least 10 portraits measuring 8-by-10 inches will be painted, and that number could grow if more artists volunteer for the project, said Bekkala. 

Anyone who is interested in having a deceased relative’s portrait painted should submit photographs and a one- to two-page story about their loved one. Submissions will be accepted until Aug. 31. An art guild panel will meet Sept. 1 to select at least 10 individuals to be painted. 

On Nov. 27, the portraits will be presented to the families. 

In Christian County, 102 people have died of COVID-19 since the pandemic began.

The stories provided by families will be important to creating the portraits. 

“Photographs alone can be inaccurate,” Bekkala said. “They don’t give depth. I think a story will help so we can get to the soul of the person. 

Bekkala has lived in LaFayette since 2011 and has her art studio in the South Christian town’s old bank building. 

Bekkala was born in rural Michigan. Her Finnish family left farming when she was young and moved to Detroit, where she says she immersed herself in the urban environment. She earned a Master of Fine Arts degree at the Rhode Island School of Design and her doctorate in studio art and education from Columbia University. Her work has been shown in Europe and across the United States. 

Bekkala’s sister, Ellin Bekkala Francis, also lives in LaFayette. 

Families interested in the art guild’s project should email photos and stories to drebekkala@gmail.com or send them by mail to Memorial Portrait Project, Elsa Bekkala, P.O. Box 108, LaFayette, KY 42254. 

Local artists will paint portraits of people who died from COVID-19

Jennifer P. Brown

Jennifer P. Brown is the founder and editor of Hoptown Chronicle. You can reach her at editor@hoptownchronicle.org.

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