One of the 20 portraits of health care workers across B.C. painted by Victoria’s Shannon Holms. The paintings, which incorporate golden leaves symbolizing attributes of each subject, will be exhibited at the Gage Gallery from Feb. 15 to 20. (Courtesy of Shannon Holms)

One of the 20 portraits of health care workers across B.C. painted by Victoria’s Shannon Holms. The paintings, which incorporate golden leaves symbolizing attributes of each subject, will be exhibited at the Gage Gallery from Feb. 15 to 20. (Courtesy of Shannon Holms)

B.C. artist immortalizes 20 healthcare heroes from across the province

Victoria woman launched project early in the pandemic, wanting a tribute beyond banging pots

While COVID produced two years’ worth of troubling news and trends, one B.C. artist and storyteller has taken it upon herself to illustrate the heroics that have also emerged during the pandemic.

Victoria’s Shannon Holms has painted 20 portraits with 20 accompanying stories featuring healthcare workers from across British Columbia. The collection, entitled Courage and Compassion: B.C.’s Healthcare Heroes, will be featured at Victoria’s Gage Gallery for the week of Feb. 15 to 20. Afterwards, each painting will be gifted to its subject.

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Holms began the project not long after the start of the pandemic, wanting to make a gesture beyond the nightly banging of pots and pans to honour healthcare workers. She contacted every health authority, health union and organization in the province to explain her project goal, and received an especially “overwhelming response” from employees of Island Health.

“When the emails started rolling in with requests for portraits and stories, I got busy,” she said in an email to Black Press Media. “The stories are compelling, sad, sometimes funny and they give you a visceral experience of what it was like working on the front lines of healthcare when COVID first struck.”

Gold leaves around each subject symbolize the attributes she was most taken by.

“For example, long-term care nurse Leanne Robertson has gold chrysanthemums painted on her shirt because that flower symbolizes longevity. Longevity is what the nurses at the Priory Retirement Home in Langford gave the seniors residing in this 300-bed facility, which suffered no COVID outbreaks, thanks to their outstanding care,” Holms said.

Another painting shows Dr. Lorelei Johnson, a Victoria resident, general practitioner and maternity care physician, with painted golden baby’s breath flowers surrounding her image.

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The project took a year for Holms to complete. She mentioned 1918’s influenza pandemic, and a media/photo ban on pandemic imagery placed by governments at the time as to not distract from the Great War effort. “Therefore, there are not many photos or stories from that time, so I wanted to document this important time in history by the people who are giving so much to society today – our healthcare heroes.”

Throughout the gallery’s showing, visitors will be invited to submit the name of their hero for a draw – “could be your mother, your brother, or your dog,” Holms said. She plans to gift the winner with a painting of their hero, free of charge.


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