Bay Area Proud

Santa Rosa Artist Honors Frontline Workers With Free Portraits

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When you are an artist like John Deckert, working from home is nothing new.

So, the COVID-19 pandemic didn't change how Deckert painted. It did, however, change what, or who, he paints. As shelter-at-home orders dragged on in his North Bay community, Deckert couldn't help but notice all the people who didn't have the option of staying at home.

So, he started painting them.

"I started doing the delivery guy, mailman, somebody working at the cash register," Deckert said. "Occupations where they had to keep working."

It was the start of a series of portraits of people who risk their health to keep our world working. Once finished, Deckert gives the painting to the subject for free.

Lately, Deckert has been focusing on painting those who are on the very front lines of the pandemic: nurses at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital.

"It's one of my most prized possessions now," Sheila Smith, an emergency room nurse at the hospital, said.

She got a message from Deckert a few months ago asking her to take pictures of herself and her coworkers, which he then spent hours upon hours turning into paintings.

"It's a bright light in a really hard season of being a nurse," Smith said.

"I felt honored to be included in one of his portraits," said Laurie North, another nurse at SRMH.

The two nurses say over the past year they have received gifts of gratitude for their work, such as food or masks, but nothing like the portrait.

"It's acknowledging what they have done and to say, 'Thank you,'" Deckert said. "You shared what skill you have and I shared mine."

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