Deborah Howard drawing Arthur and Edith Stern in their home

Deborah Howard drawing Arthur and Edith Stern in their home, 2004

In 2003, sparked by a discussion in my Figure Painting class on racial stereotypes and aging I began developing the Portrait Project: Child Survivors Of The Holocaust. After wrestling with the subject of the Holocaust in my art beginning in graduate school, I had finally found a way to deal with a subject of such magnitude through the simplicity of a drawn portrait.

I have interviewed twenty-five people in Denver, Chicago and Los Angeles. Finding people to pose can be a challenge; it was especially so in the beginning. I found people by networking through friends, family and colleagues. I met them in chance encounters at my son’s Wednesday night orchestra rehearsals and an antique store. One survivor was selling hot dogs from a cart on the University of Denver campus. Many of the people describe the reasons they survived as chance, fate and luck. I see a parallel in the serendipitous way I find survivors.

As an artist I feel the media of drawing is ideal. It can be very intimate and can capture the intangible qualities of an individual. A drawing, with all its quirky lines, marks and smudges, is a document not only of the subject, but of the artist as well. The artist becomes a witness, and as the number of survivors dwindles artists can take an important role in the documentation of the Jewish Holocaust.

My goal in this project is to create portraits of people at this moment in time. I am not interested in making then look like victims or heroes. I am interested in capturing their humanity and in depicting very real people who have lived extraordinary lives and also very ordinary lives.

This project is dedicated to my uncle Harry Lopas who was a child Holocaust Survivor and to his father Aaron Lopas who was murdered in Auschwitz.

Deborah Howard