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Sketching portraits of sacrifice and honour

Don Reeves loves his newsboy cap, but it proved a bit of an artistic challenge for Gillian Wright, who was among five members of the Heritage Life Drawing Society who sketched veterans from the George Derby Centre. The portraits will be on display at the New Westminster Public Library through November. - MARIO BARTEL/NEWSLEADER
Don Reeves loves his newsboy cap, but it proved a bit of an artistic challenge for Gillian Wright, who was among five members of the Heritage Life Drawing Society who sketched veterans from the George Derby Centre. The portraits will be on display at the New Westminster Public Library through November.
— image credit: MARIO BARTEL/NEWSLEADER

Don Reeves is so enamoured with the tweed newsboy cap his daughter brought back for him from London, it’s rarely left his head since he got it last spring.

Much to the consternation of Gillian Wright.

Wright is one of five members of the Heritage Life Drawing Society who took it upon themselves to sketch 11 veterans living at the George Derby Centre for an exhibition that runs at the New West Public Library through to the end of November.

And the hat’s fine threads, in their herringbone pattern, proved no small challenge for Wright’s pencils.

But upon seeing his portrait for the first time at a special reception at the George Derby Centre in late October, Reeves declares himself pleased.

“That’s a real good portrait,” says the 90-year-old air force veteran.

“Your face was a delight,” says Wright. “But that hat was a pain in the neck, with all those little stitches.”

This is the second year artists from the life drawing society have made veterans subjects of their sketches.

Over the course of two 20-minute sittings last July, the artists got to know a little about their subjects, all of whom are participating in art therapy programs at the Derby Centre themselves.

For the artists, it was an opportunity to honour and immortalize the contribution made by the veterans, says Irene Lacharite, the president of the life drawing society. “These are people who went through a lot for Canada.”

For the veterans, it’s a bit of recognition.

“It’s very validating,” says Yoying Orosa, the director of therapeutic programs at the Derby Centre. “They’ve had a lot of experiences that they may not be able to articulate because they didn’t have the benefit of therapy or counseling when they got out of the military.”

Many of the veterans took a keen interest in the process of creating their portraits, sidling up to the artists as they worked on their preliminary sketches, offering tidbits of information that were then incorporated into the final drawing, such as Reeves’ service in India being marked by a map in the background.

“They’re really aware of us drawing,” says Wright. “They have a real sense of pride that someone wanted to draw them.”

The process of sitting for a formal portrait session is also much more intimate and intense than a photo session, says Laracharite.

A lot of photos never leave the computer any more,” says Lacharite. “Drawing is a lot longer lasting.”

It’s also more open to artistic license.

“You’re given the opportunity to chose the face you like,” says Wright. “I probably took off 20 years on all of them.

Which, judging by the smile on Reeve’s face, suits him just fine.

The sketches of veterans will be displayed in the stairwell to the New Westminster Public Library’s second floor through to Nov. 30. The exhibit will be complemented by a presentation on the second floor of art work done by veterans at the George Derby Centre. For more information about the Heritage Life Drawing Society, go to www.heritagelifedrawing.com.

 

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