Homeland residents serve as subjects for portrait project and exhibit

Homeland portrait project

Mindy Deardorff (seated) and Sherryl Heberlig working on the details for their portrait project at Homeland.

When Mindy Deardorff doodles, she doodles faces.

“I love faces,” says the artist. “I’ve drawn faces since I was a kid.”

She especially enjoys drawing the faces of the elderly. “There’s more character,” she says. “There’s more wisdom. You get more from the expressions.”

With her love for drawing faces, Deardorff collaborated with photographer Sherryl Heberlig on a unique project for the quarterly Homeland Center art exhibit. Heberlig took photos of a few, willing Homeland residents. Deardorff sketched their portraits in graphite, and each subject received a print of the picture.

The exhibit, which also includes paintings by Deardorff and scenic photos by Heberlig, is part of the rotating series mounted by artists from the Art Association of Harrisburg. The artwork hangs in Homeland Center’s Florida Room and gallery.

Heberlig and Deardorff are longtime friends who have partnered on previous projects. When Heberlig saw a notice about exhibiting at Homeland, she pitched the idea and found a receptive audience.

“Mindy likes to draw realistic portraits,” said Heberlig. “I said that maybe we could take pictures of some of the residents and give them a photograph for their families or themselves, and Mindy could draw them and have a drawing for her portfolio.”

On a warm day in June, four Homeland residents got ready for their close-ups. They included Geoffrey Davenport, who had his portrait taken in the Catherine Elizabeth Meikle Courtyard, as water splashed over the fountain and birds sang amid the blooming flowers and trees. Heberlig made him feel comfortable by joking as her camera shutter clicked.

“Can you look out like you’re looking at a pretty girl?” she asked.

Homeland portrait project

Homeland resident Geoffrey Davenport in the 5th Street Garden, with the Catherine Elizabeth Meikle courtyard as the backdrop.

Mr. Davenport readily complied.

“I want to do this because it’s part of Homeland, and I like Homeland,” he said. “I like the artwork in the gallery.”

As Heberlig snapped photos, Deardorff reviewed the images, looking for “nice strong features and expressions. Good shadows, but not too harsh. Something relaxed. Not too tight.” Mr. Davenport, she said, “looks very relaxed.”

Even as a child, Heberlig was always taking pictures of people. For Christmas, her parents would give her flashcubes packaged in tall rolls. Today, helping her subjects loosen up gets Heberlig the candid photos she likes.

“When people relax a little bit – boom, that’s when I get the photo,” she said.

On the day Heberlig and Deardorff were hanging their exhibit, they found another subject. Resident Mildred Anthony and her daughter, Jean Dyszel, learned about the project when they were walking past. Dyszel said that her mother had a pencil sketch done at 5 years old, so arrangements were made to schedule a photo shoot and get a new drawing.

A copy of the original sketch now hangs in Mrs. Anthony’s room at Homeland – a little girl with dark hair styled in a 1930s bob. She remembers exactly how it happened, when an artist came to the house with a painting of Jesus at Gethsemane that he had painted for her mother.

“While he was there, my mother told me to wash my face,” Mrs. Anthony said. “Isn’t that a nice sketch? He was a very talented man.”

Her daughter loved the symmetry of pairing the new portrait with the older one. “It’s lovely,” she said. “It’ll create another memory.”

The exhibit included paintings Deardorff modeled after “scads of pictures” she found at an uncle’s house. All were small snapshots in black-and-white, going back decades. One depicted a young girl, but Deardorff doesn’t know who she was.

“My uncle didn’t label anything,” she said. “All I know is that it’s a relative.”

As for exhibiting at Homeland, the artists loved the opportunity to share their work with residents and staff. Deardorff, whose father was a patient of Homeland Hospice in 2017, noticed the colorful, 1950s-style diner.

“Homeland is tucked away so nice and neat,” she said. “I love the little diner.”

Homeland portrait project

Sherryl Heberlig and Mindy Deardorff finalizing the latest Homeland Center art exhibit.

Heberlig’s exhibit entries included her photos of Harrisburg landmarks, printed on canvas and treated with a gel medium in a labor-intensive process that makes the picture look old and distressed. The buildings included the Alva Restaurant, the Harrisburg train station, and the legendary Subway Café.

Resident Nancy Hess immediately recognized the local scenes. The photo of the Harrisburg train station, which dates to 1887 and is on the National Register of Historic Places, instantly brought back memories. During World War II, she remembered, the USO would hold dances in the station’s expansive lobby with coffered ceiling.

“That was fun,” she said. “My friends and I would go down there and dance.”