Year One of Covid-19

By Peggy Roalf   Thursday March 11, 2021


This week marks the first anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic in New York City. This week last year marked the last public art events that I attended, including a performance of “Contract and Release,” by Brendan Fernandes, at the Noguchi Museum and the

West Chelsea Arts Building Open Studios, where subscriber Tom Cocotos works. Today the New York Times ran a feature titled, 7 Questions 75 Artists 1 Very Bad Year. This week subscriber Ellen Weinstein alerted me to an artist who last spring viewed the approaching number of COVID deaths, 100,000, as a landmark to not only honor, but to embrace in order to help the healthcare workers trying to stave off the rising death toll. Above: Contract and Release performance; photo: Peggy Roalf


Jenny Belin, a Brooklyn-based transplant from LA, began painting bouquets of flowers to commemorate the victims. So far she has raised more than $6,000. for the New York Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital in her Park Slope neighborhood. The artist, who is known for her paintings of feminist icons, recently spoke with Smithsonian Magazine about the project: Above: No. 67, left, and No. 230, right, in Jenny Belin's "100,000 Flowers" series. (Courtesy Jenny Belin)

Belin’s proximity to the crisis, and her neighborhood’s propensity for being community-minded, spurred her to create a fundraising effort for the hospital called “100,000 Flowers,” a series of artworks depicting “memorial flowers” in vases


“I had a sense that I would be painting a lot of flowers. I wanted the paintings to commemorate cases and deaths from Covid-19 throughout the world. At that time, I did not foresee a specific number of flowers that I would paint, but my intent was to create a large number to express and reflect the enormity of the suffering that would follow,” Belin says.

After one of Belin’s first donations [to the New York-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital’s Healthcare Worker Support Fund], she recalls, “I was invited to a Zoom meeting with the hospital president. It was wonderful to virtually meet staff members and caregivers. I have so much respect for their hard work, kindness and heroism.”

Belin finds inspiration for the vases in her paintings from multiple sources. “In the beginning,” she says, “I was looking at how some of my favorite artists painted vases, in particular, Giorgio Morandi, Cézanne and Manet. Then I began researching images of vintage pottery on eBay. I found out about ‘Fat Lava,’ which is mid-century pottery from West Germany. Also, Italian ceramics from the 1940s and ’50s have been highly influential. Lately I have been finding more and more beautiful vases on Instagram.” 

The style of Belin’s flower paintings has morphed throughout the project. She explains: “The early paintings were made during the first bleak days of New York’s lockdown. I watched the documentary Matisse-Picasso, and was really moved by how both artists were incredibly prolific while working in solitude. I was particularly affected by the grey landscapes that Picasso made. The only color I brought in at that point was a faint magenta pigment. The flowers became more colorful in early summer. This was probably in response to my getting outside more, feeling more hopeful (and hearing fewer sirens!).”
Editors note: Both Ellen Weinstein and Jenny Balin are members of the feminist artists activist group, Pen and Ink Brigade. Above: Ellen's portrait of Frida Kahlo, from her book Recipes for Good Luck, reposted to the Pen and Ink Brigade.