When Marcos Lutyens started making felt roses in honor of the Americans who had died from COVID-19, the death toll was at about 180,000 people. He thought — he hoped — that he’d have to make about 200,000. He was wrong.
As of this month, the coronavirus has killed about 600,000 people in the United States — including more than 240 Burbank residents.
“It just got worse and worse,” Lutyens said. “But at the same time, as it got worse, the community response got stronger and stronger.”
Since he started in August, the Los Angeles-based artist has made and collected about 30,000 roses fashioned from fabric, many of them donated from people around the country.
Those creations have been displayed in Lutyens’ Rose River Memorial, a traveling exhibit that mourns those who have died from the disease in the communities that it visits. Lutyens held the first memorial in Boyle Heights. On Monday, it’ll come to Burbank City Hall.
The memorial, consisting of more than 240 felt roses assembled by Burbank’s Tournament of Roses Association, will remain there for a week.
“[Those] deaths, when you relate it to the 600,000 that have died in the whole U.S., it doesn’t sound like a lot,” Lutyens said. “But when you multiply that by, say, 10 close family members in a relatively small community, you’ve already got 2,500 people that are severely impacted.”
Monday’s event will be livestreamed on the city’s Facebook page at 5 p.m. Lutyens and Mayor Bob Frutos will speak at the memorial.
Also attending will be Levi Chen, a Sherman Oaks-based musician, who will play a piece composed in memory of his father and the SARS pandemic of the early 2000s; Rebekah Mirsky, founding cantor of residential treatment facility and synagogue Beit T’Shuvah; and Connie Nassios, Abbi Berry and Ken Berry, Burbank residents and artists.
“The ceremony feels like a way for the city to remember that, as we’re starting to open up and celebrate the summer, there’s hundreds and thousands of people that continue under their grief,” said Leah Harrison, chair of the Burbank Cultural Arts Commission. “So I think the Rose River project is a way for us to honor those who haven’t been able to grieve their losses properly.”
Other fabric roses will also be placed on hedges near City Hall in recognition of other people across the Los Angeles area whom the disease has killed. All of the felt roses in next week’s exhibit, Lutyens explained, will be included in a culminating memorial in Washington, D.C., next year.
He explained he started the memorial with Tilly Hinton — whose talents include floral designing — and then with a number of other partners as a way to help communities process the human impact of the pandemic.
“Even though a lot of people got vaccinated, and hopefully we’re over the worst of it, there’s still a lot of grieving that needs to be processed,” he said.
Robin Hanna, the Burbank Tournament of Roses Association’s treasurer, assisted Lutyens with a similar memorial in Orange County in January, and recommended that he bring an exhibit to Burbank. Lutyens contacted the city in March, meeting with the Cultural Arts Commission regarding the project.
Hanna has continued working closely with the artist, helping him mount roses on fishing nets ahead of Monday’s event. Those will be hung on a large B, which itself will serve as a kind of centerpiece for the memorial.
The association, Hanna added, has also made between 4,000 and 5,000 roses for the future national memorial. The project has provided an outlet for the association’s members, who prior to the pandemic were hard at work making the city’s float for the Rose Parade.
“I have a feeling on Monday [the memorial is] going to pull some emotions up,” she said. “It’s really sweet to be able to see the roses that different people have made. They’re all so different and imaginative.”
With the number of daily deaths due to the coronavirus plummeting in the United States, Hanna hopes the Rose River Memorial will receive more roses to represent those who have already died during the past 15 months. Those wishing to do so can purchase craft kits or find instructions for making their own by visiting roseriver.memorial.
“Each one of those roses represents a person that’s no longer with us,” Hanna said. “It’s kind of mind-boggling to think about all these people that are no longer here.”