Arts and Culture / Magazine Feature

Howard finds ‘real lives’ in the faces of survivors

pencil portrait

Deborah Howard's portrait of Holocaust survivor Harry Lopas.

A class conversation on portraiture and racial stereotyping inspired Deborah Howard, associate professor in the School of Art and Art History, to begin her latest project, “Artist as Witness: Child Survivors of the Holocaust.”

“I wanted to find a way to portray these survivors in a true sense, without romanticizing their stories or stereotyping them,” says Howard, the niece of a survivor. “I’ve never liked fictionalizing these stories [of Jews who lived in Europe during World War II]. I think it’s hokey and disrespectful. 

“I’m depicting real people who have lived extraordinary — and often ordinary — lives.” 

She’s interviewed and drawn with charcoal or painted with watercolors 25 survivors from Denver, Chicago and Los Angeles over the past four years. Some of her subjects were in concentration camps, others were hidden or escaped to America, but all were impacted in some manner by the Holocaust. Howard says she allowed each subject to decide how much of their story they wanted to share with her. 

Her goal is to create portraits of people just as they are. 

“I’m not interested in making them look like victims or heroes,” she says. “I am interested in knowing about their families, careers, interests … In the way I draw their faces I hope to communicate a more universal hope and resilience. By emphasizing universal qualities, the viewer can identify with the people.” 

Howard has begun shopping the collection to galleries and museums.  

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