First published April 2, 2020. Last updated May 3, 2020.

This is intended at a memorial tribute to people in our local cultural community whom we have lost to the coronavirus. Unfortunately, I expect the pandemic will require more names to be added. This list will probably not end up being comprehensive. But if you know of other arts people we’ve lost to Covid-19, please send an email.


CORRECTION:

Wonderland reported on April 19 that Alan Shestack of Washtington, D.C., who served as director of Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts from 1987 to 1993, had died from coronavirus, based on information in this (now updated) report. The Boston Globe subsequently reported on April 24: “He had been suffering from multiple health problems in recent years and there was no suggestion his death was coronavirus-related, said his longtime friend Mervin Richard, personal representative of Mr. Shestack‘s estate and chief of conservation at the National Gallery.” I’m sorry for this error.


Rob Saunders
Rob Saunders

April 27: Rob Saunders, Bluegrass And Jazz Guitarist, Illustrator

While studying at the Rhode Island School of Design, Rob Saunders spent his junior year in Italy and it would change his life. After earning his BFA in 1973, he returned there for seven years, studing printmaking in Florence “while supporting himself as a musician and busking his way around Europe,” according to a memorial posted by Chesmore Funeral Home. “He developed a passion for Italian culture, became a master of ‘slow eating’ and learned Italian, which he spoke for the rest of his life at every opportunity.”

After returning from Italy, Saunders settled in Brookline and in the early 1980s launched his own illustration and graphic design firm, producing art for magazines and newspapers for 25 years. His style included a jaunty cartoony, watercolor look.

The Angel Band’s 1979 folk album “All the Good Times.”
The Angel Band’s 1979 folk album “All the Good Times.”

And Saunders contined to pursue music. He sang and played guitar, mandolin and banjo on the Angel Band’s 1979 folk album “All the Good Times.” He would go on to co-found the bands The Half Tones, Harmony Gritz and Sinti Rhythm. He “played with friends any chance he could get, especially getting into the music of Django Reinhardt and gypsy jazz,” Chesmore Funeral Home wrote.

“Nothing spells musical joie de vivre quite like the swinging strain of jazz pioneered by the great gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt and his Quintet of the Hot Club of France,” Sarah Rodman wrote in The Boston Globe in 2009 before Sinti Rhythm played at Atwood’s Tavern in Cambridge. The band, she said, was “Firmly in that mold.”

In 2011, Saunders was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, Chesmore Funeral Home wrote. “He continued playing music and learned to play the bass ukulele when the guitar became too difficult.” He died April 27, 2020, at age 69, in Hopkinton from complications of Covid-19 and Parkinson’s disease.


c. April 26: John ‘Preacher Jack’ Coughlin, Boogie Woogie Pianist

John Coughlin—who would become known as Preacher Jack—told stories of first meeting his hero Jerry Lee Lewis when he saw him perform at the old Boston Arena when Coughlin was just 16 years old.

“I can still see it,” he told Daniel Gewertz of the Boston Herald in 2008. “Jerry gives his chair a swift mule-kick, rips off his coat, lays on the stage, his hair down to his chin, girls are trying to get his hair, the cops are pulling them off, and I thought, ‘Oh my God. This is wonderful!’ ”

“I bow only in front of God,” he would tell Lewis in later years, “but I stole everything I could from your piano playing.”

As Preacher Jack, Couglin became an explosive boogy woogy pianist, performing around the Boston rock ‘n’ roll scene since the 1960s. In the ’80s, George Thorogood helped Coughlin get a recording contract with Rounder Records. “No one has terrorized a piano like Preacher Jack,” his friend and manager Peter Levine, who helped revive his career again in the 2000s, wrote last month for Wicked Local Malden.

“Jack’s last stop on his Never Ending Tour was a hospital in Lowell – Covid-19,” a friend wrote on the John Preacher Coughlin facebook page on April 26.

The 78-year-old was born Feb. 12, 1942, and grew up in Malden. “My earliest memories of becoming enamored in this boogie woogie sound happened when I was about 13 years old,” he told Christopher Hislop of Seacoast Online in 2013. “The family would sit around the radio and listen to the programs. We’d eat peanut butter and crackers. This was our entertainment. I remember hearing Liberace perform. He was the first to mention the term ‘boogie woogie.’ It’s a type of music that boasts a very melodic bass pattern. It’s a very danceable brand of music. It’s healthy to dance. The moment I first heard that program and that music I couldn’t wait to get home every day after school to do my homework. I’m not talking the homework the school assigned. I’m talking boogie woogie. I was a little fresh. We’re all fresh at times, aren’t we?”

In his later years, Coughlin resided in Salem without a car or phone. He remained tall and thin, now with long white hair and beard. A 2011 video of Preacher Jack playing at the Granite Rail in Quincy on the occasion of his 69th birthday has been viewed 7.5 million times on YouTube. But more recently, infirmities landed him in Tewksbury State Hospital.

“I’m not into organized religion, but I feel Jesus Christ in me,” Jack told The Boston Herald in 2008. “I can see my own demon, too. I always had that advantage. There’s the good and bad Jack.”

“I’ve gone off the deep end,” he continued. “But I changed my ways because I wanted to function in society. Bi-polar is good for playing boogie-woogie! I’d always apologized to the Lord when I did naughty things. I could be a scalawag. I was addicted to Budweiser. I could go astray.”


Beverly June Collins
Beverly June Collins

April 25: Beverly June Collins, Always Singing Or Whistling A Tune

Beverly June Collins, who died April 25, 2020, from complications of Covid-19, had a beautiful singing voice, her family remembered. She played piano when she was young. “As a teenager, she sang on the radio a few times,” according to a memorial tribute published in the Boston Herald. “She could nearly always be heard singing or whistling a tune while she was busy with something else.”

For decades, she worked as bookkeeper and secretary for her husband Charlie’s electrical business. They met while she was working in Boston and he had just returned from the war in Korea. After living for a time in Somerville, they moved to a house they bought in Avon in 1960.

Collins “loved the arts,” her family recalled in the tribute. “She was a talented artist and took delight in her own projects as well as teaching others. She had a masterful command of language and grammar. She volunteered as a substitute teacher, led various afterschool creative activity programs, and volunteered as a Girl Scout leader. She loved visiting art museums of all kinds and appreciated folk arts as much as fine art. She loved the theater; productions large and small.”

Collins lived with her family in the Avon house until she moved into a nursing home last year. She was just shy of her 90th birthday when she died.

“The isolation she endured as a person with advanced dementia over the many weeks leading up to her passing is one of the great tragedies of the pandemic,” her family wrote. “Our hearts go out to all of the residents caught in the middle of this crisis and their loving families who have been unable to visit and console them.”


Danforth Art Museum co-founder Paul Marks (second from right) at a fundraiser at the Framingham institution.
Danforth Art Museum co-founder Paul Marks (second from right) at a fundraiser at the Framingham institution.

April 20: Paul Marks, Co-Founder Danforth Art Museum, Montserrat President

“The trick was not to depend on people involved in the arts, but to harness everyone,” Paul Marks, co-founder of Framingham’s Danforth Art Museum in Framingham, told a reporter in 1974.

Marks and his wife wife Elaine convinced the town to donate the empty Farley Middle School on Union Avenue for use as the museum. Framingham State College agreed to pay the museum director’s salary—as long as the director taught one course per semester at the school. And they orchestrated a drive to get more than 1,500 families to become members and attracted lots of volunteer help.

“First he was thinking this would be a great retirement project, but the more he thought about it, he knew he wanted to do it right away,” his daughter Robbin Marks told Lauren Young of the MetroWest Daily News.

When the Danforth Museum opened in May 1975, Marks told The Boston Globe, “The reason it worked is that we didn’t say, ‘Let’s have an art museum,’ but instead there was consultation with all kinds of people, with the town, with everyone—how the area, which has begun to assert its regional identity, felt about it. Whether it made economic sense or not.”

Paul Marks died from coronavirus on April 20 at age 90, the MetroWest Daily News reported. He was living at a senior living facility in Maryland, where he and his wife moved from Framingham two decades ago be closer to their two daughters and grandchildren.

Paul Marks was born on Oct. 24, 1929, in Dorchester. In 1965, Marks founded Concept Industries, which made trade show exhibits in Framingham until 1984. He would serve as a trustee for six colleges, including the University of Massachusetts and Framingham State University; as chancellor of Higher Education for Massachusetts; and as president of Montserrat College of Art in Beverly. And he authored books about the artist James McNeill Whistler.

The MetroWest Daily News reported, “Paul Marks tested positive for the virus on April 17. Elaine— separated on another floor of the facility—was unable to see her husband before he died.” His daughters plan to bring their father back to Framingham to be buried at Edgell Grove Cemetery.


Elizabeth DaCosta Ahern
Elizabeth DaCosta Ahern

April 19: Elizabeth DaCosta Ahern, Painter Of The Ephemeral Moment

“I paint to embrace the essence of a moment, a memory, a recollection of ephemeral aspects of nature, culture, music and poetry,” said painter Elizabeth DaCosta Ahern of Waltham, who April 19, 2020, at the age of 81 of COVID-19.

Her paintings are often abstractions that evoke skies and landscapes, seas and the elements. She was especially inspired by studying with Helen Frankenthaler at the Fine Arts Institute of Santa Fe College in New Mexico. DaCosta Ahern herself taught at DeCordova Museum School, the Worcester Art Museum and Lesley University, as well as conducing private workshops.

Elizabeth DaCosta Ahern's painting "Miradoura."
Elizabeth DaCosta Ahern’s painting “Miradoura.”

“Painting for me is as necessary as breathing; as much an instinct as a delight,” DaCosta Ahern said on her website. “Contemplation, imagination and time may alter the memory of the experience. The process of painting in layers gives me the opportunity to deepen, to abstract or to embellish the image as it plays in my mind. The paintings become the distillation of the light and color of the remembered experience.”


Art Rich.
Art Rich.

April 14: Art Rich, High School Portrait Photographer

“2020 has been off to a rough start! Schools being closed doesn’t mix well for us being a school photographer,” Art Rich Photography studio on Main Street in Southington, Connecticut, posted to Facebook on March 18. “So due to things that are out of our control we will be drastically limiting our hours here at the office and no photographing will take place at this time. … Please stay safe out there and we hope to see everyone again real soon!”

For more than three decades, Art Rich photographed weddings, portraits, children, underclass photography and proms. But the 73-year-old was perhaps best known in the community for (as he advertised) “the best senior photography around.”

On March 19, he was hospitalized with what would turn out to be the coronavirus. He soon was transferred to MidState Medical Center, where he was put on a ventilator to help with breathing. But his situation grew grave. Not quite a month after he was admitted, the hospital took him off ventilator.

“We cannot be by his side, talk to him or even be there for each other,” his daughter, Angel Rich, said on Facebook on April 18.

Family members said goodbyes by phone. “We don’t know if he heard us,” his daughter, Angel Rich, told the Hartford Courant. “We just told him that we loved him and we miss him and not to worry, we will keep his legacy going and take care of mom for him.”

Rich’s youngest son, Jason, plans to take over the family photography business, the Hartford Courant reported.


April 5: Lee Fierro, Grieving Mom in ‘Jaws’

Lee Fierro—the Martha’s Vineyard actress famous for playing a grieving mother who lifts her black veil and slaps Chief Brody across the face in 1975 film “Jaws”—has died from complications of Covid-19, Kevin Ryan, artistic director and board president for Island Theatre Workshop, a program Fierro championed during her more than four decades on the Vineyard, told the Martha’s Vineyard Times.

“She was tickled by it. She found it really entertaining,” novelist Nicki Galland told the Martha’s Vineyard Times. “She would say, ‘If you told me that’s what I’d be known for, I wouldn’t believe it.’ She had no screen training. She trained as a theater actor.” Galland told the Times a story Fierro would recall about being scolded by the movie’s director, Stephen Spielberg, for a dramatic exit from Edgartown Town Hall during the filming: “Lee, you’re not on Broadway, tone it down. Tone it down.”

The Martha’s Vineyard Times reported that the “dedicated, vibrant matriarch of the island’s robust theater scene” passed away at an assisted living facility in Ohio, where family had her move in 2017 to be closer to them. She was 91 years old.

Fierro served as artistic director of the Island Theatre Workshop for more than 25 years, and continued to assist there into her 80s. She also starred in many roles at the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse in Vineyard Haven.


Kimarlee Nguyen reading at the Kundiman Mentorship Lab final reading at Books Are Magic in Brooklyn, December 11, 2019. (Courtesy Kundiman)
Kimarlee Nguyen reading at the Kundiman Mentorship Lab final reading at Books Are Magic in Brooklyn, December 11, 2019. (Courtesy Kundiman)

April 5: Kimarlee Nguyen, Writer

“When life gets real hard and the winters here get so cold that I feel my bones breaking and everyone in the house is screaming about stupid things that won’t matter tomorrow, I tip my head back like this, right and remember me, all bruises and anger, leaning back, just holding the mango to my nose, smelling, smelling all the good that is yet to come.”—Kimarlee Nguyen in “If You Cut Me Open, Right Now, This Is What You’ll Find:” published in Drunken Boat 18.

Brooklyn writer Kimarlee Nguyen died April 5 at age 33 due to complications from COVID-19. She was born and raised in Revere, Massachusetts. She often wrote about her traditional Cambodian family, who had survived the Khmer Rouge. She got her bachelor’s degree in English from Vassar College and received her master’s degree in creative writing from Long Island University Brooklyn. She had taught English at Brooklyn Latin School since 2014. She died of the coronavirus “on the way to the hospital” in Everett, her cousin Tina Yeng told The New York Times.

“People out there can be so cruel. But people can also be so kind, so loving and that’s what this mentorship has taught me,” she wrote in December 2019 about her experience participating in a mentorship lab with Kundiman, a nonprofit organization dedicated to nurturing writers and readers of Asian American literature. “We writers do not need to be at each other’s throats, trying to one up the other in order to be some crazy version of ‘the best’ or ‘the most accomplished’. The Mentorship Lab is a space where all of us are fully ourselves, doing the hard work of creating and revising in a space that is safe, where all of us is seen, in all our genius and with all our flaws.”

Read a selection of her writing collected by Kundiman. A GoFundMe has been set up “to help her family with cremation costs and other related expenses.”


David Driskell. (Courtesy DC Moore Gallery)
David Driskell. (Courtesy DC Moore Gallery)

April 1: David Driskell, Artist, Scholar of African-American Art

David Driskell, the prominent African American artist and scholar, died April 1, at age 88. He passed “in the late afternoon in a hospital outside of Hyattsville, Maryland, where he lived with his wife, Thelma Driskell. The cause was double pneumonia due to complications of the coronavirus,” according to his gallery, DC Moore Gallery in New York.

Driskell visited Maine to study at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in 1953. “I came to the Maine scene with a sense of color already imbedded in my mind,” Driskell, who ended up living part-time in Falmouth, Maine, said in 2008. ”But when I got here, things were so different. The light was so different. I was just so taken by the greenery, I started painting pine trees. And I haven’t really stopped.”

In addition to his paintings, collages and other artworks, he was a pioneering scholar of African American art, curating the landmark 1976 exhibition ”Two Centuries of Black American Art: 1750-1950” at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

A retrospective of Driskell’s art is to be shown at the High Museum in Atlanta, the Portland Museum of Art in Maine, and The Phillips Collection in Washington, DC, in 2021.

David Driskell, “Sweet Music - Homage to Dizzy Gillespie,” 1978. Collage and gouache on paper mounted to fiberboard. (Courtesy DC Moore Gallery)
David Driskell, “Sweet Music – Homage to Dizzy Gillespie,” 1978. Collage and gouache on paper mounted to fiberboard. (Courtesy DC Moore Gallery)

Michael McKinnell. (Courtesy of his family)
Michael McKinnell. (Courtesy of his family)

March 27: Michael McKinnell, Co-Designer of Boston City Hall

Noel Michael McKinnell, the England-born architect and co-designer of Boston’s Brutalist City Hall, died March 27 of pneumonia after testing positive for Covid-19, The Boston Globe reported. The 84-year-old was residing in Rockport after having lived in Boston’s Back Bay.

“Boston City Hall reflected the era’s aspirations to invest in the civic realm and the desire to represent a new political order for a New Boston,” Michael Kubo, Mark Pasnikk and Chris Grimley, authors of the 2015 book “Heroic: Concrete Architecture and the New Boston,” wrote in The Architect’s Newspaper on March 31.

McKinnell and his partner, Gerhard Kallmann, won a competition to design the building in the early 1960s, when McKinnell was just 26 years old. The concrete modern structure, completed in 1968, is said to be the first building he designed as an architect. Around Boston, their firm, Kallmann, McKinnell & Wood, would go onto design Boston Five Cents Savings Bank, the Back Bay Station and the enlarged Hynes Convention Center.

Boston City Hall lit up red for Medicine Wheel's annual AIDS Vigil, Nov. 30, 2016. (Greg Cook photo)
Boston City Hall lit up red for Medicine Wheel’s annual AIDS Vigil, Nov. 30, 2016. (Greg Cook photo)

Steven Richard (left) and his wife Karen Nascembeni, December 2019.
Steven Richard (left) and his wife Karen Nascembeni, December 2019.

March 24: Steven Richard, Photographer, Historical Society Member

Lynnfield resident Steven Richard, a photographer who captured images used in promotional materials for the North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly, died March 24 from coronavirus, according to reports by The Lynn Item and Wicked Local Beverly.

His wife, Karen Nascembeni, the theater’s general manager, “has been under sedation as she continues to fight for her life” since they “were both stricken with the virus three weeks ago,” Wicked Local Beverly reported on March 31.

Richard was also an active member of the town Historical Commission and Lynnfield Historical Society.

Peter S. Adams as the Ghost of Christmas Present with David Coffee as Ebenezer Scrooge and the cast of the North Shore Music Theatre’s December 2019 production of “A Christmas Carol.” (©Steven Richard Photography)
Peter S. Adams as the Ghost of Christmas Present with David Coffee as Ebenezer Scrooge and the cast of the North Shore Music Theatre’s December 2019 production of “A Christmas Carol.” (©Steven Richard Photography)

CORRECTION:

Wonderland reported on April 19 that Alan Shestack of Washtington, D.C., who served as director of Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts from 1987 to 1993, had died from coronavirus, based on information in this (now updated) report. The Boston Globe subsequently reported on April 24: “He had been suffering from multiple health problems in recent years and there was no suggestion his death was coronavirus-related, said his longtime friend Mervin Richard, personal representative of Mr. Shestack‘s estate and chief of conservation at the National Gallery.” I’m sorry for this error.


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Categories: Art