Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Seamus Berkeley: Portraits of Family House

What would Family House look like through the eyes of an artist?

Seamus Berkeley, a soft-spoken painter residing in Berkeley, has embarked upon a multi-year artistic endeavor entitled Portraits of Family House. The goal of the project is to capture the heart and soul of Family House by painting patients, families, staff, and volunteers. Family House is a nonprofit in San Francisco that offers free, temporary housing to families of children being treated at the UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital for cancer and other life-threatening illnesses.

Seamus first came to know Family House through Volunteer Coordinator Karen Banks. Though she was not yet a staff member, Karen said, "Let's talk about what I'm passionate about!" and told Seamus all about the organization and the families served. Instead of a straight donation, Seamus said, "I want to do something bigger, more meaningful."

"I thought it was a great project, and then I started meeting people, and it was way beyond what I ever imagined. When your world has just been pulled out from under you and you don't know what you're going to do next, I want to know 'What gets you through this?'  For example, the painting of Kelly and Devon - she's had a continuous series of difficulties in her life.  She said, 'Sometimes I feel like I'm in this darkness, and when I close my eyes, I call out, and see a white light.' So in the painting of her and Devon, you see that she is surrounded by a white light."

You might recognize the tender portrait of Kelly and Devon, recalling the Madonna and Child. The photograph that Seamus took for this painting was featured on the recent Family House Mother's Day card, along with a snippet of Kelly's story.  Devon is Kelly's miracle baby, and the loving bond between them is captured in Seamus' art.

Among the faces of the Portraits of Family House, you will see a large-as-life portrait of Dr. Arthur Ablin and his wife, Debbie Ablin, set in the back yard of their North Bay home.  Together with the help of other pediatric oncologists at UCSF, the Ablins founded Family House in 1981. The portrait now hangs proudly in the living room at 50 Irving Street.  It is important to tell the story not just of the patients and families, because Family House is a community of people giving and sharing and celebrating life together.

"I have three children, all adults and grown up now.  We didn't have any medical traumas like the families here are going through… but having had some experience of a traumatic event, and knowing how disconcerting that can be…" Seamus trailed off, but continued, "Everyone here is helping other people manage and get through their trauma."

It is fitting that Karen be a subject in this series, and hers is the latest portrait completed.  "There is always the challenge of how to paint anyone; every painting is a new thing."  When pressed to describe the process of this particular project, following decades of experience with portrait work, Seamus smiles, "Honestly, I think it's some of my best work."

To learn more of the Portraits of Family House project, click here:

To make a donation to the project, visit:

You can also follow Seamus on Facebook to get the latest updates:

To learn more about Family House, please visit:

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