International artist Marcos Lutyens watched as the number of COVID-19 deaths began to pile. After the first wave of deaths in mid-March 2020, Lutyens realized that the victims couldn’t be just another statistic – they needed to be remembered and memorialized. 

“(COVID-19 has) left such a huge devastation in its weight. This still needs to be processed. It’s not like the flavor of the month,” said Lutyens. “You know, this is really definitely something we need to be coping with for a long time. So hopefully this project helps.” 

Lutyens came up with a public art project that is being constructed in various locations throughout the country, using roses created by community members.

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On March 23, the Christ Cathedral Cultural Center in Garden Grove unveiled the Orange County Rose River Memorial, sponsored by OC Autism Foundation, as an event and exhibit dedicated to Orange County COVID-19 victims. 

The display was made up of more than 4,600 handmade felt roses, with each rose representing a life lost to the virus in Orange County. Though Lutyens has been working on this project since August, the roses took two weeks to craft, thanks to help from sponsors and community volunteers. 

“As we mark the one-year anniversary of the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and reflect on the many precious lives that have been lost, our heartfelt thoughts (are) for the families, friends, and loved ones who have suffered a tragic loss beyond any comparison,” said Mayor Steve Jones of Garden Grove during the memorial. 

During the month of February, the Orange County Museum of Art called on community members to pick up rose kits including instructions, felt and glue to make a total of eight roses. Lutyens hosted a virtual workshop where he guided participants through the crafting process, while encouraging them to share stories. 

“I also did a kind of guided meditation because I feel that it’s part of it. It’s not just crafting, we’re also working on this, this idea of kind of grief processing,” Lutyens said. 

The art exhibit will be on display on the cathedral campus’ Small Gallery, near the Arboretum, through June 30. Afterwards, the traveling exhibit will become part of a larger display in Washington, D.C., for National COVID Memorial Day in March 2022. 

This day of recognition is spearheaded by Kristin Urquiza who founded the Marked by COVID organization after her father died from COVID-19. The organization is dedicated to pushing state legislators and public officials to make the first of March a national holiday and create permanent memorials, according to its website. 

Jones has joined over 150 mayors nationally to proclaim the first Monday in March as COVID Memorial Day. 

“There is no measure of grief and sadness. We’ve all experienced the results in the measure of how comforting and healing the spirit of the community can be. At today’s Rose River Memorial, the community of Garden Grove stands together as one to remember and honor those lost and impacted by COVID-19,” Jones said during the memorial.  

Bishop Kevin Vann of Christ Cathedral blessed the handmade roses, reminding those in attendance of the importance of remembering those who have passed from the virus during a year that has been draped with fear, grief and loss, he said. 

Lutyens focused on red roses not only because it’s the national flower of the U.S., but also for its symbolism. 

“When soldiers returned from war, passed away, they have the flag, but they also have the red roses on the casket, which symbolizes valor and courage,” Lutyens said. 

He added that these two characteristics are needed most by the community to move past these difficult times. 

Tom DaRé, chief of the Garden Grove Police Department, gave his thanks on behalf of the department and the community for setting up a memorial honoring the many victims of COVID-19, including the department’s Lt. John Reynolds. 

“The Christ Cathedral has been a tremendous source of strength and friendship to the Garden Grove Police Department and our community,” DaRé said. “Having this memorial is very important to our community, and an honor to the lives we have lost to this deadly virus.”   

As of March 1, a total of 4,608 individuals from Orange County were being honored and commemorated by the community and the Rose River Memorial. 

“There is no loss like the loss of human life and how it physically and emotionally affects each of us, and the impact it directly and indirectly creates on all of our daily lives,” Jones said. “This is why it’s important to be together to remember and honor our fallen and find the strength, support and hope in our shared loss.”

Kristina Garcia is a writing fellow for Voice of OC Arts & Culture. She can be reached at

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