‘It felt like he had been seen’: Edmonton continuing care residents captured in portraits by staff member

Click to play video: 'Edmonton continuing care residents captured in series of portraits'
Edmonton continuing care residents captured in series of portraits
An artist sees their subject through a unique perspective. That's why portraits of residents at the Edmonton General Continuing Care Centre are striking a chord. Morgan Black explains – Jan 20, 2021

Residents at an Edmonton continuing care centre have the chance to see themselves in a new light, thanks to a talented staff member.

Jennie Vegt, a recreation therapy assistant and artist, has been sketching portraits at the Edmonton General Continuing Care Centre for about a year.

The project began when Vegt noticed residents were often more interested in watching her draw than working on art projects themselves.

“I started doing portraits of them, one-on-one sessions,” she explained. “When I got such positive reactions, it made me want to keep doing it.”

In her portrait, resident Shirley Wishart said she sees herself through the eyes of a friend.

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Shirley Wishart’s portrait. Courtesy: Jennie Vegt

“I’ve never had a portrait of me done before… I guess maybe because I felt self-conscious,” Wishart said. “I’m very pleased with my portrait.”

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Wishart and Vegt have a special bond; the 84-year-old was the first resident to have a portrait completed.

“It means the world to me to have Jennie as my good friend,” Wishart said. “We haven’t known each other for a very long time but we just click.”

So far, Vegt has done 33 portraits. She said it has been exciting to see her subjects open up in unexpected ways.

“There was a gentleman who wasn’t especially interactive and often confused,” she said. “When I did his portrait, his eyes lit up. Ever since, he’s been a lot more engaged in my other recreation programs.

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Jennie Vegt and Shirley Wishart in an undated photo.
Jennie Vegt and Shirley Wishart in an undated photo. Courtesy: Covenant Health

Vegt works with residents to make sure their photo looks as close to how they feel on the inside.

“Maybe there is a scrape on their face or a tooth that they don’t want in the photo. I’ll make a few alterations so they can look at the picture in the way they see themselves — not the things they don’t like.”

Wishart said she’s heard from other residents that they’ve been excited to see their own likeness captured by Vegt.

“I’ve watched them emerge from the paper as a living, breathing person,” Wishart said.

The artist said she hopes the drawings capture the lives behind the walls of a care home.

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“I just want people to see how wonderful this group is and remind us who we’re trying to keep safe.”

Wishart said when she looks at her portrait, it makes her feel beautiful.

“It makes me feel good. That’s all I can say,” Wishart said. “She is an exceptional artist. I’m honoured Jennie did my portrait.”

Vegt plans to complete a portrait of every resident on her unit.

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