‘People want to hear your story’ Chelmsford artist portrays nurses amid COVID battle
CHELMSFORD – Artist Laurie Simko learned she was working on the frontline of the COVID crisis from an authority – her daughter, Shevaun Assini, a registered nurse at Holy Family Hospital in Methuen.
Assini’s experiences and those of her nursing colleagues inspired Simko, a resident of Chelmsford and a member of the Chelmsford Art Society, to paint their portraits.
The result was “Thank You Heroes”, a series of 16 x 12 inch oil paintings on canvas, on display at the Chelmsford Center for the Arts.
Worry and relief
The idea for the exhibition took shape in the spring of 2020.
“My daughter sent me a selfie when she finally got her protective gear. It took them a while to get it,” Simko said. “I was very relieved when I saw that she had her mask on and all the personal protective equipment they needed.”
The image has become more than a selfie. “The image she sent was so striking that I really wanted to paint her portrait,” Simko said. “I asked if she could send me more of her colleagues.”
When Simko received the photos, she thought to herself, “Why wouldn’t I make 19 of her colleagues, plus her, would be 20, by 2020. So that’s how it evolved.”
The portraits made their debut at an exhibition last March and April at the Brush Gallery in Lowell.
There was a public and a private reception for the nurses featured in the portraits.
Portrait painting was a departure for Simko, whose works include collages and scenes from nature and the animal world.
“When we were working with the images, I would ask, ‘Can you just tell me what you were feeling and thinking?’” Simko said. “Some were a little reluctant. They’re not for the fame, or anything. I said, ‘People really want to hear your story. “
Each portrait is accompanied by a brief description, as told to Simko.
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Several, including Simko’s own daughter, contracted COVID, but all survived, Simko said. “In fact, my daughter contracted COVID from a patient. They didn’t think he had COVID, but he did. Her husband and children contracted COVID.”
A united effort
A nurse from Colorado had a double mastectomy. “She was only 26,” Simko said. “I asked him if it was okay to mention that.
The surgery was preventive, due to the prevalence of cancer in the nurse’s family. “She had reconstructive surgery and was proud of her new body,” Simko said.
Another nurse, an immigrant from Ghana, is preparing her diploma to become a nurse practitioner.
“One was a phlebotomist, who went around the entire hospital … she was part of a team,” said Simko. “A lot of them were expressing how important it was – what team they were on, how they all came together.”
If you are going to
“Thank You Heroes Nurse Portrait Series” by Laurie Simko
On view until November 5 at the Chelmsford Center for the Arts, 1A North Road, Chelmsford
Exhibition available during cultural center events and by appointment.
For more information visit chelmsfordarts.org.
Learn more about the artist
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