Gertrude Kearns was appointed to the Order of Canada in 2019 “for her contributions to preserving and understanding Canadian war history as a contemporary artist.” She has worked as a war/military artist for more than two decades, including as an official war artist embedded in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in 2006. Public collections of her work are at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa and the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.
I grew up a proud daughter of Ruby Steiger, a registered nurse who trained at Yarmouth Hospital in the late 1930s. I loved being a candy-striper volunteer in my teens, assisting nurses at Toronto’s St. Joseph’s Hospital where she worked. That appreciation of the hospital environment no doubt influenced my interest in the relevance of institutions – including the police and military – and led me to this portrait of Major Trisha MacLeod as a full-circle tribute to the honourable profession of nursing.
It was Rear-Admiral Rebecca Patterson, commander of Canadian Forces Health Services, who referred me to health services operations officer Major Trisha MacLeod, a registered nurse. She saw three tours of Afghanistan between 2004 and 2012, and her clinical skills brought her to Sierra Leone in 2015 during the Ebola epidemic. Currently nearing the end of her two-year command of 32 Canadian Health Services Centre in Toronto, she will be promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel on May 14 and will be posted to Petawawa, Ont., where she will take command of 2 Field Ambulance.
I wanted to present Major MacLeod heroically as a tribute to military medical staff past and present. Is she a one-winged Angel of Mercy? A modern-day Athena? These romantic inferences jive with the overall depiction of an officer who is ready to draw her nine-mm pistol if required, armed as she would be operationally in war zones.
Nurses are nothing short of heroic. Like members of our military, they put themselves in harm’s way to protect us. I hope my portrayal does something to encourage viewers to recognize and appreciate the importance of the work they do. Let’s respect our nurses.
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