Treasured portraits come home

By Charlotte Wooldridge | posted on June 19, 2020

A POST on social media has sparked a cross-country effort to return portraits back home to Albany.

Pat Curgenven lived in Albany for many years and showed an interest in art from a young age.

Remembered throughout the Albany community as a talented portrait artist and friend to many, a large collection of Ms Curgenven’s artworks now reside with her daughter Trudi Ellen in Queensland.

Ms Ellen said Ms Curgenven’s started to invest more time into her creative outlet when she began struggling with her mental health.

“I think in those days they really didn’t know what to do with women with depression, and the doctor said to her one day ‘well, what do you like doing?’ , she said ‘I like doing art’,” she said.

“He told her to focus on that, so that’s what she did.

“She always loved people, so she started off by doing quick sketches at the market.”

This hobby eventually developed into creating larger and more complex portraits, with people all over Albany sitting for Ms Curgenven.

Almost all of these portraits were left to Ms Ellen when her mum passed away five years ago, so in an effort to return some of her collection to those featured in the art, Ms Ellen took to Facebook to reconnect her mum’s art with her subjects.

“I thought that I’ve got to find who these belong to; I can only keep so many,” she said.

“My kids are going to inherit these one day and they won’t know who they are, so I thought I may as well track them down and I was thrilled that two out of three we’ve found homes for. And I’ve got lots more here so I’ve got to photograph them and maybe find where they belong.

“Mum would be so delighted to know that the people that she did their portraits of so long ago, who didn’t really know where the portrait was or what happened to it, that they’re finally being reunited with it.”

One of the portraits making its way back to home soil is of Desma Clifton who passed away seven years ago.

Ms Clifton’s son Preston Clifton said finding out his mother had a portrait done was a beautiful surprise for the whole family.

“It was really exciting to see, especially as I hadn’t realised Pat had done a painting of Mum,” he said.

“I quickly tagged my sisters Eileen and Sherrona in the post so they could see the photo of the painting too and they were excited like me to discover that there was a painting of Mum.”

Many others in the community recognised the portrait of Ms Clifton immediately, with Mr Clifton saying it was delightful reminder of how well-loved his mother was.

“Mum touched many souls with her love and kindness, and our family is all so grateful to have been instilled with these qualities from our precious mum,” he said.

“It means so much to all of us to have mum memorialised like this.

“I was talking to my dad the other day, wondering when Pat did the painting and he said it must have been 40 years ago now that she did it, back when our family lived in Townsend Street before I was even born.”

Another woman whose portrait arrived in Albany this week is owner of Ron’s Barber Shop, Rowena DeBonde.

Ms DeBonde said the last time she saw the portrait was 38 years ago, when she was in her early 20s.

“I knew Pat through her daughter Trudi, as I used to share a house with her boyfriend at the time,” she said.

“I’d seen a portrait that she’d done, and I asked if she would do one of me for my family that I could give to my mum and dad as a Christmas present, and she did a pencil sketch for me which I gave to my parents.

“She painted me at the same time, and that’s the one she kept.”

The watercolour captures Ms DeBonde in her youth and was even the winner of an art prize.

“I didn’t ever forget that it existed because Pat actually rang me one day and told me that she’d won an award with it, so I always knew that it was around but I didn’t know it was over east,” Ms DeBonde said.

Ms Trudi Ellen said she is forever grateful for the lessons her mother instilled in her, and despite passing away five years ago, her spirit lives on with those she met and through her children.

“Mum’s hope was that us kids would get into art, and I’m actually an artist myself through everything she taught me,” she said.

“I run an art class and it helps a lot of people who are having a hard time. So through her lots of other people with depression are being helped, and that’s a line that’s going through the family.

“She had quite chronic depression, and she was suicidal a lot, so her art helped her to overcome a lot of her mental health issues.”

Mr Clifton said he also has fond memories of Ms Curgenven.

“Pat was an amazing artist and me and my sisters and our dad still remember how exciting it was to have Pat come and paint all of us,” he said.

“We thank Pat so much, even though she is no longer with us, and remember her very fondly. And we all appreciate Trudi reaching out to us to reunite our family with this very special painting.”