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Pandemic warriors: Retired Marine combat artist sketches faces of WellSpan Good Samaritan employees for art exhibit

May 11, 2020

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Artist Mike Fay takes photo of Linda Felty at WellSpan Good Samaritan Hospital during COVID-19.

Artist Mike Fay takes photo of Linda Felty at WellSpan Good Samaritan Hospital during COVID-19.

Mike Fay is hard to miss as he enters the Intensive Care Unit at WellSpan Good Samaritan Hospital.

Like everyone here during the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, he is wearing a face mask. But Fay, who has a Celtic background, also wears a fitted tweed jacket, green tartan kilt, matching green knee socks and tasseled loafers. And he is holding a sketchbook and a camera, which he uses to take photos of faces of WellSpan Good Samaritan Hospital employees throughout the hospital, capturing care-worn but cheerful nurses, physicians, housekeepers and security guards in patient units, the emergency room and the hallways.

The 66-year-old retired U.S. Marine, who lives in Mt. Gretna, is using the images for a special art exhibit that he and more than two dozen artists from across the nation are collaborating on, called "The Emergent Warriors of the Pandemic."

"The pandemic is asking these people to go far beyond the normal protocols and time and personal dedication," said Fay, who has been in eight combat tours. "Simply put, we are at war with COVID-19. Having been to a war of another sort, I see it as my job and calling to try to record in art the faces of these health care professionals."

Fay is using his photos to create sketches of the faces of the employees he encountered at WellSpan Good Samaritan Hospital. He also has been drawing the faces of grocery store, garage and other essential workers he has encountered in Lebanon County for the exhibit, which notes on its Facebook page, that “these individuals, often in full sight and just as often taken for granted, are our links to something near to normalcy as we shelter in place. They are in the fight. They are out in the trenches. They are taking the bullets and psychological bruises for each of us.”

Fay and the other exhibit’s artists, who have done artwork, illustrations and editorial cartoons for Rolling Stone, Time, the New York Times, Nickelodeon and Sports Illustrated, hope their Emergent Warriors artwork will eventually be shown in art museums and colleges across the country.

In the meantime, Fay and the other artists are posting their artwork on the exhibit’s Facebook page.

"We are honored to have our employees' faces immortalized in this artwork," said Tom Harlow, senior vice president, WellSpan Health, and president, WellSpan Good Samaritan Hospital, who introduced Fay to employees. "We see them as our ‘warriors’ in the pandemic and are proud of the work that they do every day."

Fay first served in the Marines as an infantryman, attaining the rank of sergeant. He left the service to pursue a college degree, earning a bachelor's in art education from Penn State University. He re-enlisted in the Marines and served in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. In 2000, he entered the Marine Corps Reserve, as an official combat artist with the Field History Detachment. As a combat artist, he served two tours each in Afghanistan and Iraq, creating paintings and drawings that demonstrate how combat looks and feels.

His works have been exhibited at The Pentagon, The James A. Michener Art Museum, the Navy Museum and the National Veterans Art Museum, as well as other museums and colleges across the country. He is a founder and director of "The Joe Bonham Project," an artistic venture involving The International Society of War Artists and the Society of Illustrators, its artwork destined for The Smithsonian Institution.