Last summer I was going through old family photographs after my dad passed away and began to ask questions about the women in my family history. I found out that my great-grandmother, though she lived in Paraguay, South America, delivered the most babies safely in the history of her community. She was one of the first people to incorporate sterilization through the use of alcohol, hot water and soap on everything that came into contact with women during delivery, including boiling the clothing worn by her and her assistants. I began to think about how so many women paved the way for us today. Even though women still have so far to go towards equality, there are so many women that have come before us and accomplished amazing things in spite of the challenges.
In October I put out a call on social media asking for photographs and stories of other grandmothers as I wanted to honour them by painting a portrait of each and sharing their photographs and stories online and, once the project is complete at the end of the year, hopefully with an exhibit and a book. The project was started at the beginning of January with a painting a week that will last until the end of December. After gathering the information needed, I have since heard of other amazing women and am not certain how I will stop at 52 grandmothers.
Reading the stories of each of these women touches me deeply. I weep and I laugh at their strength and courage. When one of the grandmothers, Maria Gomes, was diagnosed with COVID-19 and ended up in hospital for quite some time her family kept sharing the paintings and stories with her, which helped in her recovery. A real testament to the beauty of art.
I’ve been painting these portraits on gallery-depth 8x10 inch canvases and utilize layers of acrylic paint to add pattern and colour. The tools I use include brushes, brayers (rollers for printmaking) and an airbrush along with stencils to create a vibrant background for the portraits. Apparently CBC radio northern Ontario (French broadcast) discussed the project in August with one of the contributors and talked about the combination of a modern twist with vintage images in the pattern and colour usage.
I think what I’d like to share with people is how important it is to recognize what our elders have and still do contribute in our world, particularly during this pandemic. It’s important for us to remember that as we navigate these challenging times.