PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — Thousands of Floridians have lost their lives over the past two years from COVID and other causes. Over that time, the pandemic has often kept people apart during the grieving process.
Now, a group of art leaders in Pinellas County is working on a new way to honor, remember and cherish those who have been lost.
Creative Pinellas is reaching out to the community to lend items for their upcoming exhibition, “THE THINGS THEY LEFT BEHIND: Grief, Discovery, and Remembrance.”
The exhibit is intended to memorialize and honor those who have passed away. Creative Pinellas is looking for artwork, photographs, handwritten recipes, journals, handmade clothing and jewelry, letters, doodles, poetry, etc. They are hoping to borrow items that are meaningful and give a glimpse of the people being remembered.
“We talked to so many people over the last two years who found themselves unable to go through the mourning process during Covid and wanted to find a way to come together as a community to help heal,” said CEO of Creative Pinellas, Barbara St. Clair.
The exhibit was spurred by the death of Suzanne Ruley who had been a long-time advocate for the arts community in Pinellas County. After Ruley’s death from COVID-19 in January 2021, her husband Matthew found comfort in the large number of creative art pieces that she created over the years.
“I kept pulling out portfolios and canvases and sketches. There was over 100 pieces by the time I was done and I photographed almost all of it and shared it with our friends and family members,” Matthew Ruley explained.
Ruley said the artwork captures just one small part of what made his wife of 25 years effervescent.
“She had a lot of talents and she really was into making people happy,” he elaborated.
Art can serve as therapy and that’s what St. Clair hopes the exhibit will provide for the community. “It helps you process your emotions and maybe also in this particular environment helps you feel that you’re not alone,” she added.
The items are not just restricted to art.
Beth Gelman, the interim Creative Pinellas Gallery Director, says the momentos can be almost anything that brings back memories. “I have a friend who wears her mother’s apron and it’s stained with all the meals her mother made. To me, that’s a creative piece because it shows the history,” she said.
Ruley hopes that when the free exhibit opens to the public in mid-May, it will be a spot to grieve and honor those lost while also celebrating the contributions they made towards making the world a better place. “We can celebrate the people that didn’t make it. We can celebrate those who did,” he elaborated.
Community members can bring their artwork to the Gallery at Creative Pinellas, located at 12211 Walsingham Blvd on the grounds of the Florida Botanical Gardens in Largo. The gallery is open Wednesday through Sunday. The items are being collected from now until Sunday, April 17. Items can also be brought to the Creative Pinellas administrative offices during regular business hours by appointment only. Items submitted will be catalogued and included in the exhibit and returned to their owners when the exhibit ends in mid-June.
“THE THINGS THEY LEFT BEHIND: Grief, Discovery, and Remembrance” will open with a reception and program on Thursday, May 12 from 6-8 pm and run through June 26.
“I believe that objects have power,” Gelman said. “This exhibition aims to give the objects that were left behind by the people we love the appropriate respect and voice. In learning the stories behind the objects, we can carry on the legacy of those who are no longer with us.”