‘Faces, not numbers’: St. Pete artist paints portraits of those who died from COVID-19

With every touch of paint and every stroke of her paintbrush, Margaret Bayalis knows she’s making a difference.

The St. Petersburg artist says the number of people dying from COVID-19 became overwhelming to her last October.

"I think, as a visual artist, I was becoming numb to the statistics and I feel that people respond better to a visual image than they do to numbers," she shared.

She started painting portraits of those who lost their lives to the virus – logging them on a Facebook page she named "Faces, Not Numbers."

"I just feel good about honoring them," she said. "It has been cathartic."

Over time, her Facebook page took off.

"I did a painting for a person in India, and I just finished one for a gentleman in Portugal, who lost his father," she explained. "I did one of someone in Spain. So it has grown, even outside of this country. When I began this, I never expected it to grow to the dimensions it has."

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Bayalis does not charge the families for these paintings. She says right now, she’s completing one every couple of days. Tuesday morning she was working on the portrait of a woman named Dottie.

"The people who requested this were from Ohio, and she was a nurse," she said. "She was dearly loved by her family."

Family members who request a painting send Bayalis a photo of their loved one and she puts it on a monitor in her home studio and paints from the picture. 

At last count, she has painted 56 portraits with no plans of stopping.

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"These were parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, daughters, sons, you know? They were unique individuals all in their own way."

She says they are so much more than a number.


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