Rose River Co-founder Marcos Lutyen

Rose River Co-founder Marcos Lutyens brings his extensive expertise and international reputation as an artist working at the intersection of art and healing to the Rose River Memorial.

A new temporary installation artwork on the exterior wall of Self Help Graphics and Art memorializes each of the 189 lives taken by COVID-19 in Boyle Heights and unincorporated East LA and begins a handcrafted national memorial to the virus’ devastating impacts. 

The Rose River Memorial is made from handcrafted red felt roses set against a mural by Oaxacan muralists Tlacolulokos and is part of SHG’s 47th annual Día de los Muertos activities. 

“It was an important one to start with,” co-founder Dr. Tilly Hinton said of Boyle Heights. The piece, on display through November, is one of many planned throughout the United States. Santa Monica is projected to be the next one.

“(Boyle Heights) represents the community of color and where poverty is ever present. These are some of the demographics that are being hit the hardest by COVID-19. COVID has affected the community harder than others and Boyle Heights is one of those.”

This begins an extended collaboration which will see the distribution of rose-making materials into the East LA community.

As COVID-19 deaths continue to climb across the nation, the Rose River Memorial is using art and crafting to support collective grief and acknowledgement of loss. People from across the nation are making red felt roses using a simple design and then mail them to the Rose River Memorial team, Hinton said. Contributions so far have flowed in from across California, as well as New York, Washington, North Carolina, Arizona, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania.

The national memorial is set to be finished in winter 2021, and relies on community support to make this happen.

“If we installed the national Rose River Memorial today, there would be more than 234,000 roses assembled tightly together and covering more than 3 acres or 30 basketball courts,” Hinton said.

“That is almost a quarter of a million loved ones lost. It is that many empty seats at Thanksgiving tables this year, it is a loss on a scale that is almost impossible to imagine, which is where art and collective crafting becomes so important.

“Those who have lost loved ones to COVID-19 often don’t experience compassion or awareness from the greater community because of the divisiveness and discord that’s present,” said Carolyn Freyer-Jones, founder of The Friday Minute. Her father died from COVID-19 in July. 

“The Rose River Memorial project is important because it acknowledges. It communicates the preciousness of each life, and it communicates tangible beauty that we can see and touch. The fact that people everywhere take the time to make the fabric roses demonstrates love, kindness, and compassion. I tell everyone I know about the project. As someone who lost a loved one it means so much to me personally, and as a fellow member of the human race it gives me great hope because it shows that beauty and love are always present, even in the most challenging of times.”

Marvella Muro, director of artistic programs and education at Self Help Graphics and Art, said that one of their reasons for curating the installation into their 47th annual Día de los Muertos activities is that “the process of creating and coming together is very important. History has shown us that art has been very vital in helping us process difficult and wonderful times. Art is the platform and the tool that will help us all come together and create a common ground.”

People who have made and mailed roses talk about the comfort and peace that the simple crafting process has brought to their lives in these anxious time, Muro said.

Rose River Co-founder Marcos Lutyens brings his extensive expertise and international reputation as an artist working at the intersection of art and healing to this project. 

“When the concept of the Rose River Memorial arrived in my thoughts and my sketchbook in August this year, I knew immediately the healing resonance it could bring, and how acutely this is needed,” Lutyens said.

Hinton added, “We’re encouraging people to handmake roses and send them to us. You realize every single rose is an actual person who will not be sitting at a table on Thanksgiving. They’ll be forever missed by this ripple effect. Because of the scale of devastation, we knew we had to do it to make that visible. It’s too hard to hold into our brain. We have to see it. It’s a beautiful opportunity for people to see what’s been happening across the country and grieve together.”