NIH Record - National Institutes of Health

Painting the Pandemic

NIDDK Employee Shares Artistic Talents

A collage of paintings of different people wearing face masks during the pandemic
Selected paintings from Laughlin's "Covid Portraits" exhibit
Dr. Maren Laughlin
NIDDK’s Dr. Maren Laughlin, the artist
Paintings of people wearing face masks on display at Clinical Center
“Covid Portraits” by Laughlin are on display at the Clinical Center.

Photo:  Maren Laughlin

In the early days of the pandemic, NIDDK’s Dr. Maren Laughlin picked up her paintbrush to find comfort and connection. The program director for integrative metabolism research in the Division of Diabetes, Endocrinology and Metabolic Diseases had an idea—to portray people wearing their masks. A few months later, 25 colorful mixed media “Covid Portraits” in acrylic and fabric on canvas are the result, now on display in the Clinical Center near the Covid-19 testing check-in station. 

“When we first learned about the pandemic’s shutdowns and public health measures that were necessary to try to contain the virus, there was so much anxiety across the community, and a strong sense of isolation,” said Laughlin. “These portraits celebrate people who choose to wear masks out of respect for each other’s health during this confusing and scary time and illustrate how unique and beautiful they are despite the mask. I hoped to provide a little connection during a time of physical distancing.”

When Laughlin got the idea for the portraits, she put out a call to family and friends for masked selfies and promised to paint a portrait of everyone who sent her a photo. Overall, the project took 4 months to complete and includes people from across the U.S. and two from France. Along with the display at the Clinical Center, some of the paintings have been displayed at a local venue during mask-sale fundraisers.

“Everyone who sent their selfies will have a unique souvenir of 2020,” said Laughlin. “Hopefully the portrait will remind them how we came together in new ways, even while staying apart physically.”—Alyssa Voss

The NIH Record

The NIH Record, founded in 1949, is the biweekly newsletter for employees of the National Institutes of Health.

Published 25 times each year, it comes out on payday Fridays.

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Staff Writer: Amber Snyder (link sends e-mail)