Exhibit features portraits of workers who braved pandemic

A portrait of AC Value Center worker Robin Kacsh, by Sylvia Lange. (April 14, 2021) Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times

From firefighters and nurses to cashiers and postal workers, an ongoing exhibition at the Copper River Gallery features over 70 portraits of frontline workers who have stayed on the job throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

The Portraits of Cordova’s Frontline Workers exhibition was organized by Paula Payne, cultural program leader for the Cordova Historical Museum, where the gallery is located. Payne coordinated by email with artists who chose from a gallery of photos on which to base their portraits.

“At first I was a little intimidated, because you do know these people, and you want them to be happy with it,” said artist Sylvia Lange. “Then I decided — nah, let’s just have fun! Don’t worry about it.” Lange contributed collage portraits of AC Value Center employee Robin Kacsh, Cordova Community Medical Center materials manager Vivian Knop and registered nurse Olivia Moreno, who delivered Cordova’s first round of coronavirus vaccinations in December.

Denis Keogh, curator of collections and exhibits for the museum, said the Portraits of Cordova’s Frontline Workers exhibition had drawn a higher than usual number of visitors. Keogh hopes the museum will find ways to organize similar “shows of gratitude” in the future, even without the pandemic to provide an impetus.

“It’s a great example of how art can connect people,” Keogh said. “It’s a matter of showing appreciation to all those people that have been potentially at risk, who have been in public contact a lot because of their jobs… Art’s a great way to show gratitude. What’s not to love about it?”

Paintings featured in the Copper River Gallery’s Portraits of Cordova’s Frontline Workers exhibit. (April 14, 2021) Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times

Other portrait subjects included CCMC Medical Director Dr. Hannah Sanders, Cordova Police Department detection dog “Eyak,” and Fire Chief Mike Hicks, who was painted in bold, Warholesque colors by artist Toni Bocci.

Firefighter and U.S. Forest Service maintenance worker Dana Smyke, who was the subject of a portrait by his daughter Ria, praised the exhibit for drawing attention to workers in a wide variety of trades and professions. City of Cordova emergency management coordinator Heather Brannon, who was the subject of a portrait by Payne, praised the show for including images of workers who fill vital roles but who don’t always enjoy high public visibility.

“It’s a neat cross-section of essential workers,” Dana Smyke said. “I appreciate everybody’s work that went into getting through this whole COVID thing. I think it takes the whole community working together, and that’s demonstrated in this art show.”

The Portraits of Cordova’s Frontline Workers exhibition opened April 2 and will close May 1 to make way for an exhibition connected to the Copper River Delta Shorebird Festival. The museum hopes to host more local art shows in 2021, filling gaps left by larger shows put on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic, Payne said in January.

The museum is open Tuesday-Friday from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. and Saturday from noon-5 p.m.