Memorial exhibit helps healing process after losing loved one

When a beloved member of the Creative Pinellas community died from COVID-19, her traditional family and work-family collaborated to remember her with an exhibit of her amazing artwork and ended up inviting the community to add their loved one's belongings to the collection.

"Suzanne (Ruley) was an artist, a visual artist also a performing artist," shared Barbara St. Clair, the CEO of Creative Pinellas. "After she passed, her husband was looking through some of the things that she had left behind, and found a number of paintings that he hadn't seen."

It was fitting to use some gallery space to show her work as a tribute to her creative spirit, and the action of putting that together brought some introspection.

St. Clair recalled, "As we were talking about it, we thought to ourselves, you know this experience must be happening over and over and over, that people are losing people to COVID or during this time of COVID and then finding things that maybe they didn't know about."

The memorial exhibit gave birth to a larger showing where community members were invited to contribute items that brought back memories of their own family members and the response was amazing.

"We have one gallery that has Suzanne's work, and we have two other galleries we invited community members to bring in things that either their loved one had created or that was important to their loved one," explained St. Clair.

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The exhibit has become not only a tribute to those loved ones but also a memorial to them and a rest stop on a healing journey for those who visit.

"What we are finding is that people walk through this gallery and they're getting a sense of peace or they're getting a sense of relief... in a more healing way," stated St. Clair. "Each of the items here represents a loss. It represents a real human being."

This touching tribute has allowed for closure for not just the staff members at Creative Pinellas, but also for the community that has taken part in the exhibit.

St. Clair put it this way, "There's a process of discovery, and I think that's part of what makes this both sad and gives you a sense of longing but also gives you a sense of sweetness."

The exhibit runs through June 26 at Creative Pinellas located at 12211 Walsingham Rd, Largo, FL 33778. It is open from 12-5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. 

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