Two years after the coronavirus pandemic swept through the borough, Queens Public Library announced the opening of the “Queens COVID Remembrance Day” exhibit at Elmhurst Library, right in the heart of what became known as the “epicenter of the epicenter.”
The exhibit opens March 1 and consists of 270 portraits of Queens residents who perished during the pandemic.
The 12”-by-18” images suspended inside a structural glass reading room were created by 17-year-old artist Hannah Ernst who began drawing portraits of COVID-19 victims after the loss of her grandfather, Calvin “Cal” Schoenfeld, in May 2020. With the help of her mother, Ernst created a Facebook community named Faces of COVID Victims, featuring more than 2,500 portraits drawn by her, capturing the spirit of loved ones lost.
Ernst worked with COVID-19 victims’ families to accentuate unique details of each loved one: a favorite baseball cap, glasses or a carefully shaded salt-and-pepper beard.
“We have experienced time passing in new ways during the pandemic. This monthlong exhibit, held two years after our city was thrown into an emergency response to COVID-19, is an opportunity to hold both space and time to acknowledge all we have lived through and those we have lost,” said Natalie Milbrodt, QPL’s coordinator of metadata services and the founding director of Queens Memory Project. “We are proud to work with our community partners to plan the exhibit and are grateful to the team at Elmhurst Library for hosting this evocative memorial.”
The first “Queens COVID Remembrance Day” was organized by a committee of borough residents who lost family members and featured Ernst’s portraits placed on empty benches at the Forest Park Bandshell on May 1. Many of the portraits were later displayed at St. John’s University in August.
What began as one young artist’s endeavor to capture the essence of her grandfather inside a framed portrait sparked a viral movement that first traveled online and now offline in public spaces inaccessible during the pandemic,” Queens Memory Curator J. Faye Yuan said. “Now hung across a library’s reading room, this community memorial is a testament to the healing powers of public art, art that empowers us to witness grief as an artifact of love. Together.”
Queens Memory invites the public to contribute to this community memorial. Customers can use the below QR code or visit queenslib.org/queensmemorial to upload their photos and the story of someone they wish to memorialize. The Queens Memory Project will share these contributions on queenslib.org/covid.
“The pandemic has left an indelible mark on the lives of so many families who lost a loved one to COVID-19. We organized the first ‘Queens COVID Remembrance Day’ during a time when those families needed a space for healing, acknowledgment and support,” said EmyLou A.S. Rodriguez, co-chair of the ‘Queens COVID Remembrance Day’ Committee. “We are grateful to Faces of COVID Victims and Queens Public Library for creating this memorial space to continue to honor the memory of those we’ve lost, especially now that the world tries to move on to some semblance of normalcy. For those of us who suffered loss, our lives will never be the same.”