Throughout lockdown hundreds of artists from across the UK produced portraits of NHS workers for free as part of the #PortraitsForNHSHeroes initiative which was launched in early April by Oxford-based portrait painter Tom Croft. There was an incredible response to the project inspiring similar initiatives across Europe and North America.
Caroline Forward, a Cambridgeshire artist and member of #WeAreCambsCreatives, completed three portraits as part of this inspiring initiative and we feel privileged to share them with you here on the blog with notes about each of the frontline heroes she painted, including a local nurse who works at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge.
You can find a detailed explanation of how #PortraitsForNHSHeroes came about over on Tom Croft’s website here. He talks about what portraits represent and how they immortalise people. He poses the question of who should be immortalised and “line the walls of galleries” today. Tom says: “The people who put self interest and self preservation to one side and literally risked their lives knowingly on a daily basis for our well being. The NHS workers. Absolutely.”
Tom helped to match NHS workers with participating artists directly but due to such high demand he also suggested that any artist willing to get involved with the project posted their offers of free portraits on Instagram. Caroline did just that and was contacted within minutes of posting her offer by Kate, a midwife working in a busy maternity unit in Barnsley.
Kate said to Caroline how difficult it is for mothers giving birth without their nearest and dearest around them. She described the exhausting impact of working in personal protective equipment (PPE), the high levels of staff sickness and therefore staff shortages, and the long shifts.
After completing her first painting Caroline agreed to do a further two portraits. Her second portrait is of Katie, a staff nurse in Coronary Care at Addenbrooke’s. It was incredibly meaningful for Caroline to be able to paint a local frontline worker and she was able to deliver the finished artwork in person – socially distanced of course!
It was a very special moment for Caroline when she met Katie outside her home.
Katie told Caroline that she tries to keep her patients as calm, comfortable and reassured as possible whilst giving them the treatment they need to get better, being their advocate and being there for them especially when they are at their most vulnerable. With no visitors allowed she does as much as she can for their mental health so they feel less alone.
Caroline’s third portrait is of Karen, a paramedic in the West Midlands Ambulance Service. Karen moved her four daughters into her brother’s home at the start of lockdown in order to protect them from her potentially bringing Covid-19 home with her after work. To be separated from your young children for several months is a hardship. Caroline says: “These stories of personal sacrifice by our frontline workers need to be heard.”
It has been a touching and emotional journey for both the artist and subjects. Caroline explains that although the portraits are of the individuals, and that they have been gifted to them as a thank you for all they do, they are also painted in gratitude to and recognition of all those who have done so much during the pandemic. She received some wonderful feedback, notably: “No one has ever done anything like this for me, given me their time and talent in this way.”
You can browse over 13,000 images which have been shared on Instagram with the project hashtag here – it is truly a wonderful and visually moving social media curation. You can also find a small online exhibition of selected works over at The Net Gallery.
It is hoped that there will be a physical exhibition open to the public of #PortraitsForNHSHeroes sometime in the future but in the meantime be sure to follow @tomcroftartist for updates and @carolineforward to see her latest work over! If you are a local artist who has also produced a portrait as part of the project we would love to hear from you – please do get in touch.
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