Durham area painter Maria Bennett Hock has recently completed what she believes to be her magnum opus — “the most important, impactful and historic”— piece of art that she has conceptualized in her past ten years as an artist. Titled “45 Portraits in 45 Days,” Hock’s exhibit features the portraits of Duke Hospital essential healthcare workers who have sacrificed so much in pursuit of caring for those afflicted by COVID-19. The exhibit strives to capture the culture of a COVID facility as it depicts the raw emotions of those working behind the scenes amid the pandemic. Although doctors and nurses make up a significant portion of the collection, Hock wanted to ensure that the unsung heroes in the healthcare field were given credit as well.
“I didn’t want all doctors and nurses,” said Hock in a phone interview. “I wanted the maintenance people, people in the cafeteria, and I wanted people that usually don’t get recognized to have some kind of recognition. They’re still putting their life on the line, but they seem to be more forgotten than the doctors and the nurses.”
While the exhibit is not open to the general public due to Duke University Hospital restrictions, those with a prior appointment at the Duke Hospital or one of their clinics can view Hock’s artwork. Additionally, Hock has posted some of her paintings online for those who would like to see the exhibit but cannot access the hospital at this time. While Hock herself worked on painting the 45 individual photos, she herself has not been able to visit the hospital to see the full-fledged version of her creation. She hopes that she will be able to see it before it is taken down.
“It was a very emotional project, and it was hard to even turn in the paintings,” Hock said in a phone interview. “I didn’t know [the subjects] in the paintings, but it felt like I knew them. It was a very emotional journey for me in many ways.”
For Hock, the journey of completing this exhibit came at a time of personal loss: a time when her own mother had passed away. After the unfortunate turn of events in her life, she came back and traced the empathetic colors that shaped the human canvas as an artist depicting healthcare workers. Hock mentioned that her favorite paintings in the collection are ones that focus on the eyes and express concern. She also mentioned that the greatest challenge of this entire endeavor was not painting itself but rather the communication because she was unable to frequently interact with her subjects.
“We [Duke Arts & Health] spoke with Maria about her interest to do individual portraits of selected hospital employees and began collecting names of staff from managers and co-workers,” said William Gregory, coordinator of arts programming at Duke Hospital. “It was originally going to be 30 Portraits in 30 Days. However, Maria wanted to continue with everyone nominated and it grew to the 45 Portraits in 45 Days.”