Margaret Bayalis, a resident of Milford for more than 40 years, says that when the COVID-19 pandemic began last spring, she and her husband, John, began isolating like many others around the country. Bayalis, who now lives in St. Petersburg, Florida, started spending more time painting in her home studio, producing oil paintings and exhibiting them at the Woodfield Fine Art Gallery. Sales were brisk, but as the pandemic worsened and numbers grew more concerning, Baylais felt less inclined to paint the Florida scenery, as beautiful as it was.
“I wanted to use the power of my brush to address the number of people lost in my own community to COVID-19,” Bayalis said. “I came up with the idea of offering memorial paintings to grieving families free of charge. My aim was twofold. First, to provide comfort to families who had lost loved ones to COVID and second, to raise public awareness of the tremendous toll the pandemic was taking. I posted my idea on a local Nextdoor neighborhood bulletin board and, to my surprise, requests came immediately.”
A local Tampa Bay Channel 10 news affiliate learned of the project and interviewed Bayalis. This led to requests from a much wider area and, four months later, she has completed more than 30 portraits with more requests coming in daily. Requests have come from as far away as Hawaii and she recently expanded the project to include other artists with similar intentions through a Facebook group page entitled “Faces Not Numbers.” The group now has 52 members and a New Jersey chapter.
Bayalis was born in Easton, Pennsylvania, and raised in Washington, New Jersey. She graduated from Montclair State University with a Bachelor of Arts in French Language and earned a Certificate in Commercial Art and graphic Design at the University of Delaware Extension Program’s Goodstay Center in Wilmington. She married her husband, also an artist and a retired art teacher with Milford School District, in 1973. The couple moved to Milford and from 1986 to 1998, Bayalis was the Director of Publications for Wesley College.
Active in the Delaware arts scene almost from the time she moved to Milford, Bayalis has exhibited her artwork at the Rehoboth and Mispillion Art Leagues. She exhibited as part of the DuPont Country Club Annual Christmas Shop, United Cerebral Palsy Benefit, Ronald McDonald House Annual Benefit Show, Children’s Beach House Annual Benefit Show and more. Bayalis also taught painting workshops at the Rehoboth Art League, Mispillion Art League and Gallery One in Bethany Beach. After retiring, the Bayalis’ spent summers in Milford and winters in Florida before moving permanently to Florida in 2013.
“Our experience in Milford was an idyllic one,” Bayalis said. “Milford was a small, friendly, close knit community where everyone knew each other. It was a great place to raise our son who enjoyed a wonderful group of friends from pre-school through senior year and received a well-rounded education in the Milford School District. Milford grew in positive ways over our residency there, adding a beautiful river walk along the Mispillion River, an active art league, an impressive library and a downtown Saturday morning market.”
All portraits done as part of the Faces Not Numbers project are in oil and are a standard 9” x 12” size. They are painted on gallery wrapped canvas and designed to be displayed with or without a frame.
“The process to have a portrait done is simple,” Bayalis said. “Simply email me at email@example.com. Upon receipt of the request, I send a response letter asking folks to send a favorite photo of their loved one and email it to me. When the portraits are completed, local people pick them up at my studio. Out of state portraits are mailed at a standard shipping cost of $20. Families have been so grateful to receive a portrait. It is very heartwarming to me to know that through my skills as an artist, I am able to offer comfort and some closure to their feelings of loss.”
Bayalis explained that when people request the portrait, they often share their stories of loved ones who died alone, without the comfort of family by their sides. She has also received requests for multiple portraits of losses within the same family, many of whom are young.
“It is truly heartbreaking,” Bayalis said. “Doing this project has opened my eyes to the fact that COVID-19 has no boundaries. It effects all ages, races, men and women, young and old. I have never done anything like this before. It’s such a unique situation, at least in my own lifetime. I am happy to be able to make a small contribution to alleviate some pain facing such a huge amount of people. This project has given my work a renewed purpose. My hopes for the future, however, are that the vaccines will put an ending to this worldwide crisis.”