Self-portrait, 1993

In 1993 I won an award at the Silvermine Gallery in Wilton, CT, for a diptych, Two Letters.  They were a pair of “envelopes”, a memorial to men and women who died under Stalin’s KGB. Each envelope bore a black and white photo of a prisoner in the upper right hand corner, like a stamp. Addresses were etched in a cryptic formal script.  One was done on a nice creamy sheet of hot press Arches watercolor paper, the other on black scratchboard.

After I finished these two pieces, it was late May, and close to my June birthday.  I was inspired to do something more personal, an envelope addressed to myself, using scratchboard as a medium. The photo is of myself at the age of three, standing on a chair between snowbanks at my grandparents’ back door in Blaine Lake, Saskatchewan.  This portrait was made possible, one might say, because my grandmother Anna convinced her husband Jake to leave Russia in 1923, thus escaping the Great Purge of the Stalin years,  which pretty well eradicated the family members which did stay there, although I have a Great Aunt Neta who survived the Siberian work camps and now lives in Berlin. The “return address” in the upper left corner is my birthdate and birthplace. The address in the middle is the word “Survivor”, scratched out in dramatic flourishes. I used rubber stamps and silver ink to create postmarks, and sealed it all with my thumbprint. Happy Birthday, Joanna Wiebe.

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