Vancouver Island artists are showing their appreciation for the work of healthcare workers by immortalizing them in art and lending their voices to sing songs of hope and appreciation.
When the pandemic first hit in 2020, people began to show their appreciation for the work of healthcare workers, with the most public expression being the beating of pots and pans at 7 p.m. every night.
Touched by these generous expressions, visual artist and storyteller Shannon Holms sought a way for her to contribute meaningfully as well.
She came up with the idea of offering a free portrait to healthcare workers, on the condition of allowing her to interview them afterwards.
“When they heard about the idea, they got really excited,” said Holms, who has been drawing for as long as she can remember. “Many were afraid for themselves and their families, but they were also happy to share their stories. They’re compelling, sad, sometimes funny, and they give a visceral experience of what it was like to work on the front lines of healthcare when COVID first hit.
Their stories guided Holms in his depiction of them. In addition to a regular head and shoulders portrait, she uses elements – wings, flowers, dragons – to symbolize an aspect of their practice. For example, Dr Lorelei Johnson, GP and maternity doctor, has golden baby’s breath flowers around her image.
In another, long-term care nurse Leanne Robertson painted gold chrysanthemums on her shirt as the flower symbolizes longevity.
“Robertson works at the Priory nursing home in Langford. I believe it is thanks to the exceptional care of the nurses that the 300-bed facility has never suffered from a COVID outbreak,” said Holms, who retired from a career with the provincial government. .
She drew portraits and collected the stories of 20 healthcare workers, half of them from Victoria.
After painting the pictures, she keeps the original and sends a copy to all her subjects.
The collection of 20 original portraits, along with their accompanying stories, will be presented to the public for the first time at the Gage Gallery, February 15-20. The exhibition is free.
In Nanaimo, the Life Journey Singers sang songs of support and love to express their appreciation for healthcare workers at the main entrance of Nanaimo General Hospital each week, weather permitting.
Singers usually congregate to catch hospital workers when they change shifts, with a minimum of four singers, and sometimes more, for each performance. The 10-member group has been performing since the fall in response to an anti-vaccination protest at the hospital last September.
“It was incredibly hurtful to see these people and we wanted to show the workers that not everyone was like that,” band member Dorothy Mandy said.
The ensemble sings a capella, in three- or four-part harmony, sometimes with music written by Leah Hokanson, a Gabriola Island singer, vocal sound healer, and songwriter.
This isn’t the first time the band has performed in a hospital setting.
Although the group, formed around 10 years ago, is primarily called upon to comfort the gravely ill and dying with song, they will also sing for any occasion marking a life’s journey – births, memorials or other occasions when people would benefit from a comforting presence.
“We want to use our voices to make a difference,” Mandy said.
> Gage Gallery, 19 Bastion Square, Victoria. Open Tuesday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 4 p.m. gagegallery.ca