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'Portraits for NHS Heroes' to go on display at Cookham and Maidenhead Arts Trail

Portraits of frontline NHS workers can be found in the Cookham and Maidenhead Arts Trail (CAMAT) this year.

Painted by Julie Bennett, Sarah Luton and Inge du Plessis the works will be displayed in the artist’s CAMAT venues on Saturday, September 12 and Sunday, September 13.

The works have been created as part of the ‘Portraits for NHS heroes’ initiative started on Instagram during the coronavirus pandemic by Oxford artist, Tom Croft.

Julie has painted nine of 12 portraits of people working for the NHS during the COVID-19 crisis and plans to finish the final three during the CAMAT when she will be painting live.

Although the artist has completed the portraits from photographs, building a raport with the people she was painting was still important for her.

“I got them to interact with me quite a bit really so that I could build up an understanding of them.”

One worker Julie painted was Katie Scott from Brighton, a school nurse with a background in adult nursing, who was drafted in to look after elderly patients on a rehabilitation unit, some with COVID-19.

Katie herself contracted and recovered from the disease.

Julie described Katie as ‘lovely’ and said she wanted to capture ‘the perkiness of her face and the happiness in her eyes, and the care’.

When Julie has completed the portraits, she will be hand delivering them, which she imagines will be emotional.

“Because I’ve invested my emotion and my time in looking at their faces, I really don’t want to never see their real face,” she said.

Sarah will be displaying five portraits of NHS workers.

She said: “I really had to take what I could from the photograph, and the thing that came across in them, was that some of them looked exhausted, and the others I felt, even behind their masks, they were smiling.”

One of the portraits is of Thea Weavers from Windsor, who is a student from Sarah’s art class at Broom Farm in Dedworth.

Thea normally works as a theatre nurse in the private sector at the Princess Margaret Hospital in Windsor but was called out to help NHS at the Runnymede Hospital in Chertsey and Chiltern Hospital at Great Missenden.

Sarah said ‘it’s incredible how much you can portray’ even when staff are wearing masks, or like Thea, wearing full PPE (Personal Protective Equipment).

“She [Thea] described to me how utterly exhausted she was and I think that came across in her eyes, and that’s what I was trying to capture,” Sarah added.

Inge, finalist in the 2020 series of the Portrait Artist of the Year television series, could only paint one NHS worker, but said it was ‘heartbreaking’ not to be able to paint the others who contacted her.

She painted Corinna McNeil, a ward sister at the Royal Cardiff Infirmary. Inge said what struck her about Corinna’s photo were her eyes.

“They were not just the perky, pretty eyes someone uses for Instagram photographs.

“They say so much more, because I knew that she was probably tired, probably panicked, she was representing so many of us, so they were immensely expressive in that sense.”

Inge said it was a privilege to take part in the initiative and ‘really nice to very specifically to say thank you to someone’.

Julie will be exhibiting at CAMAT under '124 Studios'. To find the trail venues for Julie, Sarah and Inge go to www.camat.org.uk/art-trail-map

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