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Health-care workers fêted with portraits and songs by Vancouver Island artists and singers

Portraits are on display at Gage Gallery in Bastion Square, Victoria

Artists on Vancouver Island are showing their appreciation for the work of health-care 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 showing their appreciation for the work of health-care workers, 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 searched for a way for her to contribute in a meaningful way as well.

She came up with the idea of offering health-care workers a free portrait, with the proviso of allowing her to interview them after.

“When they heard about the idea, they got very excited,” said Holms, who has drawn as long as she can remember. “Many were scared for themselves and their families — but they were also happy to share their stories. They are compelling, sad, sometimes funny and they give a visceral experience of what it was like working on the frontlines of health care when COVID first struck.”

Their stories guided Holms in her depiction of them. In addition to a regular head and shoulder portrait, she uses elements — wings, flowers, dragons — to symbolize an aspect of their practice. For example, Dr. Lorelei Johnson, a general practitioner and maternity care physician has golden baby’s breath flowers surrounding her image.

In another, long-term care nurse Leanne Robertson has gold chrysanthemums painted on her shirt as that flower symbolizes longevity.

“Robertson works at the Priory Retirement Home in Langford. I believe that it is because of the nurses’ outstanding care that the 300-bed facility has never suffered from a COVID outbreak,” said Holms, who is retired from a career working in the provincial government.

She has drawn portraits and gathered stories of 20 health-care workers, half of them from Victoria.

After painting the pictures, she keeps the original and sends all her subjects a copy.

The collection of 20 original portraits, along with their accompanying stories, will be shown in public for the first time at the Gage Gallery, Feb. 15 to 20. The exhibition is free to view.

In Nanaimo, the Life Journey Singers have been singing songs of support and love to express their appreciation for health-care workers, at the main entrance of Nanaimo General Hospital every week, weather permitting.

The singers typically gather to catch hospital workers as 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 those people and we wanted to show the workers that not everyone was like that,” said Dorothy Mandy, a member of the group.

The ensemble sings a capella, in three or four-part harmony, sometimes with music written by Leah Hokanson, a Gabriola Island vocalist, vocal sound healer and song writer.

This is not the first time the group has sung in a hospital setting.

Although the group, formed about 10 years ago, is primarily called to provide comfort in song for the very ill and dying, they will also sing for any occasion that marks a life’s journey — births, memorials or other occasions where people would benefit from a comforting presence.

“We want to use our voices to make a difference,” said Mandy.

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> Gage Gallery, 19 Bastion Square, Victoria. Open Tuesday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 4 p.m.