Helen Brodowska (sp?) was my maternal grandmother. This portrait was done from a faded black and white photo of her wedding to my grandfather, Nicholas Wozny, in or about 1916. Helen and my grandfather met, according to the story my mother told me, when Helen was working as a nurse at St. Boniface Hospital in Winnipeg, Manitoba. They lived in Toronto for a time after their wedding, where at least one of my uncles was born – and then they came to Alberta to homestead.
I know very little about Helen, beyond the fact that she was raised and educated in an orphanage somewhere in Eastern Europe and either was or maybe just spoke Polish. I know that she came west with her husband and at least one small child, and became a farm-wife on a homestead near what is now Athabasca in Alberta. She bore nine children in total, losing the last (and her own life in childbirth) in the spring of 1935. My mother was not three years old, and her little brother not yet two when Helen died and they lost their mother.
In the original photograph, Helen and Nicholas both appear to be very serious, stern and unsmiling, but I understand that could be due to the long exposure time of the day, when many people, unused to being photographed, could not hold a smile for long and grew tired or bored with waiting. I used my imagination in painting her portrait. (I do plan to paint my grandfather also, but separately, as the other half of a diptych with this one of Helen.)