A year after COVID-19 forced Massachusetts to declare a state of emergency, the Cape Ann Museum has found a way to help residents collectively remember the local lives lost in the pandemic.
The Gloucester museum is creating a temporary memorial to honor area residents who died from the virus, including the 35 from Gloucester, 55 in total from Cape Ann, and more than 2,000 overall from Essex County.
The three-part art installation — which combines a lighting display, cairns created with granite stones, and a memorial quilt — will be held at the Cape Ann Museum’s Green campus from March 10-14, starting with a virtual dedication ceremony on March 10 at 6 p.m.
“We want to use contemporary art and our platform as a museum to engage the community and to provide a moment and a place where people can convene and find solace in a situation that has obviously been very difficult for us all,” said museum director Oliver Barker.
The memorial project advances the museum’s efforts to make its Green campus, revitalized with the recent construction of a new collections building on the site, into a community gathering spot. The new building connects by green space to three historic structures on the site, located off Route 128.
“The CAM Green campus should be there as a resource for the community,” Barker said, “and because of its prominent location we felt we had an opportunity to draw attention to the effects of this pandemic and to allow people to ideally come and pay homage to friends, family, and loved ones who they have lost in the pandemic.”
The museum, which has a main complex on Pleasant Street, is undertaking the memorial project in partnership with the city and LuminArtz, a Gloucester-based nonprofit that collaborates with local artists and others on artistic lighting projects.
The cairns memorial will consist of 55 piles of granite stones — representing the 55 Cape Ann residents lost to COVID-19 — constructed by museum volunteers. The stones, original to the site, are part of a larger supply the museum is using to restore an old stone wall.
The creation of the quilt, which memorializes the 35 Gloucester residents lost to COVID-19, is being coordinated by the museum and Gloucester Council on Aging board member Roseanne Cody. Ingrid Schillebeeckx-Rice, of the Burlington Quilters Guild, is making the quilt. Diane Taormina, of Monograms by Diane of Gloucester, is embroidering names on it.
The quilt will be displayed inside the new collection building, the Janet & William Ellery James Center. After the memorial, it will be permanently installed at City Hall.
The third element of the memorial is an illumination of the James Center and the cairns by LuminArt based on a video design created by multidisciplinary artist Pamela Hersch. The illumination, to be held nightly March 10-14, will honor all Essex County residents who died of COVID-19.
“My hope is that this offers an acknowledgment of everything we have been through and an opportunity to continue the long process of grief and healing,” said Miranda Aisling, the museum’s education manager and the memorial coordinator. “Art is poignantly positioned to provide this healing, particularly when we are not allowed to gather. Through this installation, we can try to fill the void that has been created by the lack of in-person services in response to this loss.”
Families were offered the chance to have the names of loved ones who died of COVID-19 incorporated into the exhibit — in a marker next to a cairn, woven into the quilt, or displayed during the illuminations.
Members of the public will not be allowed on site during the live-streamed opening event March 10 but are invited to reserve time to visit the site from March 11-14 to see the memorial.
For more information about the Cape Ann Museum Covid-19 Memorial, visit capeannmuseum.org/covidmemorial.
John Laidler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.