Creating compassion

Long-time social worker hopes portrait of the marginalized will help build understanding

A long-time social worker hopes her portraits of some of society’s most vulnerable will help people think about them in a new way.

Kathie Bird, born and raised in Prince Albert, currently has her works on display at the University of Regina as a part of the Michele Sereda Residency in socially engaged practice.

Bird created the portraits with the help of four practicum students who would assist her with finding and interviewing people for the project. Ten of the portraits from Bird’s ongoing project are currently on display in Regina. Each portrait is accompanied by a story about the person. They depict people from across the province, including Prince Albert. One of the more famous works in the collection is of late Prince Albert author and residential school survivor Augie Merasty.

“(The show) is called In the Margins, and it’s really about profiling individuals who self-identify as struggling with life or feeling like they’re living on the outside of mainstream society,” Bird said.

She meticulously paints each portrait over several weeks, preferring to use an eyedropper rather than a brush.

The technique I use is very slow. I use fairly high realism when I’m doing portraits because I really want everything about the person to shine through,” bird said. “I want it to be highly recognizable.”

Bird hopes that through her work, people learn to look at others with more empathy. Her background in social work comes through in her art.

“”I’ve been working with people in Prince Albert since 1977. It informs everything about my art,” she said.

“My experience working with a variety of people … really taught me a lot about looking past the outward appearances and rally getting to know a person, really finding out not only their struggles, but their strengths. I’ve always been blown away by the resiliency, the humour and the caring that a lot of people have.”

By interviewing and painting these people, Bird hopes to elevate them in the eyes of viewers.

“For someone to have their portrait painted is a nice thing. It really validates a person,” she said.

For more on this story, please see the September 5 print or e-edition of the Daily Herald