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RETOUCHING THE PAST: POSTHUMOUS PORTRAITS ARE A FOCAL POINT FOR GRIEF

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The photograph used to sit on top of grandmother Ipson's upright piano. When little Jane sat down to practice her scales, the woman in the photo always seemed to be watching.

The woman's hair was crimped in marcel waves, and the woman's smile was just a little impish, as if she and Jane were sharing some private joke.In those days Jane Lund felt closer to that picture than to any of the living people in her small world.

"That lovely, smiling face was an intimate part of my life," says Lund now. She has brought the photo out and propped it up on her living room sofa because she wants to explain what the photo has led to, 50 years later.

Ellacille Ipson Whitehead, frozen forever in that V-necked dress and the pretty, oblong locket, died a few hours after giving birth to Lund in 1934. Grandmother Ipson brought baby Jane home to raise, and although one might have supposed that a baby would have brought enough compensating joy to the house, the truth was that Jane Lund's grandmother never did get over her daughter's death.

"My grandmother was awash with grief," says Lund. "I was aware every day of my life that my mother died and I lived."

Raised in a house where resentment filled the air like the odor of musty wallpaper, Lund turned to the old photograph for comfort. She couldn't converse with her mother in the usual way, but she could commune with her. "Whenever I felt bad she would encourage me, or chasten me, or brace me up."

Lund has carried that comfort around with her for more than 50 years, but it wasn't until just a couple of years ago - after she had grown up, married, had three children and become an amateur portrait artist - that she began to see that she had hit upon a universal truth.

She was working at Utah Job Service as a interviewer when a fellow worker asked if she would do an illustration for her. The woman had two snapshots, one of her grandmother and one of her grandfather, but no picture of the two of them together. Both the grandparents were dead, which meant that getting them to pose for a new portrait was not an alternative. So Lund created a new history, one that put the two old faces next to each other.

Soon she was doing posthumous portraits for people who had lost husbands and sons and sisters. One woman had been haunted by a recent family photo marred by an empty space where her dead son should have been. Lund was commissioned to paint another picture, this one including the dead son, fashioned as a composite of two imperfect snapshots.

Like the photo of her mother, these portraits became "a focal point of grief," says Lund.

Lund's portraits are lifelike even as they fiddle with the reality of life. The keen attention to detail comes, she says, from all those hours spent at the card table in her grandmother's living room trying to copy the pictures in Life magazine.

"My grandmother expected me to act like I was 40, so she treated me like an adult," Lund recalls. "I had a great deal of time to entertain myself in ways that weren't obnoxious to my grandparents."

Lund's favorite way was to sit down with her grandparents' magazines, turn the radio on low, and draw from Life. "I was never satisfied until I could make my picture look exactly like the picture in the magazine."

These days, though, Lund sometimes has to rely on intuition as well. In one recent portrait, Lund worked from separate photos, taken 30 years apart, to make a new portrait of a husband and wife. To make the husband look young again, Lund had to strip away 30 years of sags, paunch and receding hairline.

Another woman asked her to draw a portrait of herself with her fiance, who had died in an auto accident. She had no pictures of the two of them together. The only photo of the fiance hid his eyes behind dark glasses.

Lund was baffled about those eyes until she dreamed one night that the fiance was standing before her. His eyes were blue, analytical and fairly close set, remembers Lund, who then drew them just as she had seen them in the dream. Perfect, said the woman.

"I know things like that are heavy, but nevertheless I feel close to the people I draw. Maybe it's because I think about them so much. Or maybe they are just anxious to be of service."

Lund has done about 50 of these portraits in the past two years. She has yet to do one of her mother, but she still talks to the old photo from time to time, looking with her mother's eyes at what the world has wrought.

When she graduated from college, married, had her first child, Lund went to the photo. When there are financial reverses, accidents, spiritual impasses, she goes to the photo.

And the woman with the marcel waves and the impish smile listens.