Covid-19 Heroes Captured on Canvas

Dr Seth and Family

Portraits of healthcare heroes in NHS Forth Valley are amongst those featured in a new exhibition at Forth Valley Royal Hospital which pays tribute to key workers during the current Covid-19 pandemic. Immortalised on canvas by Clackmannanshire artist Karen Strang, the ‘sitters’ were nominated by family, friends or colleagues  and will each receive their portrait as a gift once the exhibition ends in September 2020.

Since the beginning of lockdown, Karen has been working on portraits of “Covid-19 heroes.” Initially focusing on NHS workers, she then extended her brief to include care and essential retail workers. One of the local key workers to be captured in brush strokes  is NHS Forth Valley nurse Gillian Ballantyne from Sauchie, who is due to retire later this month.

Gillian, who works at Clackmannanshire Community Healthcare Centre, described seeing herself on canvas as a surprise as when the colleagues who nominated her requested photographs she thought they were for a retirement tribute! She said: “It was quite emotional. The portrait does look like me but I think the picture she picked was not one of the last few years so it makes me look a bit younger than I am. It makes me feel like it is a tribute to my nursing career, captured for posterity.”

Another portrait features Mr Subodh Seth, an Associate Specialist Surgeon, who works in the Breast Unit at Forth Valley Royal Hospital.  Mr Seth said: “I am humbled by the gesture made by Karen. It will provide very nice memories which I will cherish. I think this is a nice way of appreciating the efforts the NHS is making and acknowledging the contribution by NHS workers.”

The work of Stirling’s Sara McMillan, who runs The Kitchen in King Street, in making nutritious food and soups for community hubs, has also earned her a place in the exhibition.

Sara said: “I ended up in intensive care at Forth Valley Royal Hospital in July 2016 and when I managed to get up and about I shuffled all round the hospital looking at their exhibitions and art works – so this is amazing and means so much to me. I really wasn’t sure about taking part but I’m so grateful to be involved. I love my picture and I’m so proud to be among such a cohort of marvellous people.”

Karen also has personal connections with the NHS in Forth Valley. Her mother was a doctor at the former Royal Scottish National Hospital in Larbert and she herself was born at the former Falkirk and District Royal Infirmary. She explained: “In these unprecedented times artists are necessary to bear witness and all of us can be artists. However it is the key workers who are the most important people right now. Lockdown gave me the opportunity to re-evaluate what was really important to all of us and to start on a fresh canvas. I am still in lockdown as is my studio and I miss it so much. I feel great privilege, a term often misused, in being able to pay tribute to these guys. They are all amazing stars.”

The exhibition has been organised by local arts charity Artlink Central and each portrait is accompanied by a written interpretation including the story behind the scenes of the person featured.  Artlink Central Director Kevin Harrison, said he was keen to find an appropriate way to use the large arts exhibition space at Forth Valley Royal Hospital to thank key workers and lift spirits. He said: “Karen is an extremely active community member and has supported Artlink Central from early in its development. Her project felt like the perfect fit at a time when all art venues are on lockdown and now more than ever we need to celebrate creativity and use it to connect with one another.”