Community

Artists pay tribute to front-line hospital workers with their work

The Peconic Bay Medical Center lobby has been transformed, at least temporarily, into an art gallery — and a tribute to the Riverhead hospital’s front-line workers, who have seen close up the horrors wrought by the COVID-19 disease.

In appreciation of the hospital staff’s sacrifices during the coronavirus pandemic, the East End Arts & Humanities Council launched the Front Line Heroes Program in early April. Ten artists associated with the council created intimate artworks from photos submitted by hospital workers. The photos were of whatever the workers chose: self-portraits, portraits with others, a happy place of theirs, a pet, family members. Ten artists, working with oil, charcoal, pastel and acrylic, created 33 pieces, according to Monique Parsons, the council’s director of marketing and development.

The artworks were hung in the lobby Friday by Darrien Garay, Peconic Bay’s special gift officer, and a colleague, Candace Porter.

“They’re stunning and moving — incredibly moving,” said Mr. Garay.

The painted images are of lifelike personal and group portraits, scenic “happy places” such as a lighthouse at sunset (or sunrise) and a rainbow arced over a field. The pieces may be viewed on a “virtual wall of heroes” at www.eastendarts.org.

The lobby artwork will remain in place for a week or two before being taken down and presented to the nurses who submitted the photos to keep as mementos, said Mr. Garay.

With one notable exception.

The signature piece of the collection, which captures the spirit of the project, illustrates 15 medical professionals wearing masks and huddled around colorful hearts, a hospital sign and the words “HEROES WORK HERE.” That work of acrylic on stretched canvas was the product of Gary Long, a celebrated portrait artist who lives in Cutchogue and sells his work nationally.

“This project is a gift of love,” said Mr. Long, the first artist to volunteer for the project.

Mr. Long said that work took about 24 hours to finish over a period of three days.

(Credit: East End Arts & Humanities Council)

“When the people see these paintings, they’re going to know that’s them,” he said. “That was very important to me as a portrait painter. I want them to recognize themselves in the portraits.”

This project was dear to Mr. Long, he said, because of his high regard for the nurses who work at the hospital where he was a former patient years ago.

“The fact that it’s this particular hospital makes it special because of the nursing staff themselves,” he said. “These are extraordinary people.”

The pieces hang as a testament to the impact art can have during difficult times.

“The artwork had an amazing impact on the nursing staff here,” Christine Kippley, the hospital’s chief nursing officer, said in a statement furnished by Peconic Bay. “We were so moved that local artists donated their time and talent to honor us in this way. It is incredibly humbling.”

Mr. Garay said the artworks were set up in the lobby less than 24 hours after a candlelight vigil was held last Thursday night at the hospital for all the patients who had been lost to COVID-19.

“Light and dark,” he said. “Hope and grief can exist at the same time.”

Given the success of this project, East End Arts said it is exploring opportunities to collaborate with other organizations in a similar fashion.

“It just shows the appreciation that the community has for what the front-line, health-care heroes have done,” Mr. Garay said. “That in and of itself bolsters the spirits because it was tough. Things are getting a lot better now, but there was a lot of loss at the hospital.”

So, how did Mr. Long feel about how his pieces came out?

“I’m happy with the quality of the work,” he said. “You know, that’s all that means anything to me is the fact that people are going to appreciate it and hopefully they’re going to get inspired.”