Healthcare Heroes Highlighted in new exhibition at Forth Valley Royal Hospital

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 through Facebook 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. An ongoing project, Karen creates a painting a day, working the same hours as the person portrayed would work in a shift. Because of physical distancing the portraits have had to be executed from photographs. 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 in Larbert. 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.”

An initial set of about 20 works is currently being exhibited in public areas of Forth Valley Royal Hospital. They mainly comprise paintings on paper (A2 or A3 size), with some oil on canvas and giclee prints. More will appear over the next few weeks as Karen adds extra faces to the collection of stories from what is often ‘Covid unseen.’

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 is being curated through the 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.”

Exhibition Curator Silvia Sinibaldi, added: “It is exciting to see art coming back on the walls of Forth Valley Royal Hospital. Art in itself has an extraordinarily uplifting potential in healthcare settings and this exhibition creates a powerful human connection in these difficult times. Exhibiting portraits of key workers, aside from showing them much needed appreciation, puts a story next to each face and reminds us of how interconnected we are at a time we are required to stay distant and observe from far away. It is an occasion for people to be proud of themselves and for us to show care for the ones who take care.”