Artwork honors health care workers’ journey through the pandemic

FORT KENT, Maine – Local artist Sandra Deprey presented a humbling and truly special gift to the staff at Northern Maine Medical Center June 22.

“I was overwhelmed with emotion when Sandra presented us with her art work in recognition of all the difficulties that we have faced as healthcare workers at Northern Maine Medical Center throughout this battle against COVID-19. It is so impressive that someone who is not in the healthcare field was able to express this in a single image,” said NMMC Emergency Department Director Erik St. Pierre, MD, who happens to be the inspiration for the masked figure depicted in the art.

The artwork titled “Masking Layers” is an abstract representation of health care workers throughout the pandemic, a situation Deprey experienced firsthand as a patient on own health journey. When severe osteoarthritis in her wrist and thumb area threatened her passion for creating art in the summer of 2020, Deprey had surgery to intervene. Later that year while she was still healing from her surgery, a fall sent her to the emergency department at NMMC. Dr. St. Pierre tended to her injuries wearing his full COVID-19 Personal Protective Equipment. 

“I noticed the teamwork and support he built around himself,” said Deprey. 

Those two experiences in the health care system during the pandemic inspired her to create the piece. 

“The art embodies the fear that we faced, not only from trying to fight this new unknown virus, but also the personal fear of potentially contracting the disease, possibly infecting our co-workers or bringing it home to our family. It represents the emotional isolation that we suffered being separated by distancing, masking and quarantine. It also expresses the challenges that healthcare providers encountered trying to convince our community that this was the right thing to do fully knowing the adversity that we would face, yet at the same time receiving the love, appreciation and respect from so many others that understood that we were simply trying to do what was best,” said Dr. St. Pierre.

Deprey sought the help of Jill Daigle, a friend and client who happens to be a nursing supervisor at Northern Maine Medical Center. Daigle provided her pictures from the hospital, which Deprey then would use computer software to edit, applying dramatic effects until she found the one image that spoke to her.  

“When you design pieces like that, it’s a creative process that has a lot of meaning and comes from your inner soul. Once I had the outline done, everything kind of flowed after that,” said Deprey. 

Deprey began the art in December and used her sessions working on it as part of her healing, referring to the labor of love as emotional and physical therapy. Sometimes she could only work on it a short time before the pain in her hand would force her to stop. Other times, even without pain in her hand, she found she needed to stop until the art called her back to it. 

“It’s a Zen energy,” said Deprey of her creative process. “Sometimes I would roll it up and put it away for weeks at a time and I had to wait for it to speak to me. It felt like I was healing with it.”

The canvas is a muslin fabric where Deprey applied a new technique using Derwent ink pencils. Water activates the colors on the fabric, and once the artist achieves the right effect, then the ink is permanently set into the fabric with heat from an iron. Everything from the abstract image of Dr. St. Pierre, to the color choices and lighting, contains a meaning. 

Deprey quilted pieces of indigo, linen, surface design textile fabric she acquired from a friend in Florida into the canvas to represent the “layers of teamwork” required to endure the pandemic as a health care worker. The painting is darker on the left and becomes lighter towards the right, which is in the direction the figure is looking. Deprey said that represents the journey from the darkness of the pandemic to the lightness of hope as vaccination rates increase and infections seem to be declining. 

As Deprey continues her two-year healing process hoping to regain 80 percent strength and function in her thumb, she plans to continue using art as her therapy. Her next piece will be roughly the same size and she will apply the same technique and may be donated to a future fundraising event at NMMC. 

NMMC is displaying the piece in the hospital’s lobby area across from the Giving Tree and first floor elevators where staff and visitors alike can view and enjoy the art. 

“Thank you, Sandra, for creating this masterpiece that will commemorate all the hard work that Northern Maine Medical Center has done to keep our community safe during this pandemic,” said Dr. St. Pierre. 

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