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Pandemic painting provides calm for Guelph artist

A tribute to frontline workers, 'Protecting Us' hangs at the University of Guelph

For visitors to the University of Guelph, a new art installation is sparking support for healthcare workers.

Guelph artist, Natali Baird created the painting “Protecting Us” in March as a tribute to frontline workers, and she is thrilled it has found a home at the university.

“I wanted it to be in a public place where people can see it. And I’m so happy it’s there,” Baird said.

Baird decided to use her craft to honour the extraordinary efforts of those working in healthcare during the pandemic.

“This piece came out of a desire to acknowledge and support our healthcare workers. I have friends who are working tirelessly, feeling defeated and risking their lives. I felt compelled to do something,” Baird said. “I just want people to see how much we appreciate our nurses and all healthcare workers. They really are risking their lives.”

“Protecting Us” is painted on plywood depicting a healthcare worker wearing bright blue with hands carrying the weight of the world.

“It was difficult for me to hear of their struggles and so I tried to find a representation of what they are feeling, something that represents healthcare workers together,” Baird said.

“I started thinking about this in January. I got supplies in February and I finished it in March. I never painted on plywood before. It was a bit of a risk. This was just something I wanted to do, and it was made possible by donations.”

Baird is thankful for the community support she has received since completing the painting.

“I had a full-time job until last fall, so I had all of this time and energy to dedicate to this project. I want to thank JL’s Home Hardware Building Centre and Sherwin-Williams Paint Store,” Baird says.

“And I’m also thankful for my partner, Emory, who did all of the work of cutting and carpentry. It’s been a long process, but I just really want everyone to know how much their support is appreciated.”

Baird’s love of art began at a young age and as an artist, nature has always been her inspiration.

“I’ve been doing this since I was a little girl. Art is just something I’ve always loved,” she said.

Today, in her home studio, Baird’s new focus is on the world of bees.

“I’ve been doing bee drawings. Bees are so detailed but whimsical,” Baird said.

Drawing bees during the pandemic fills her with calm, as she reflects upon their importance in the world.

Baird is a graduate of Sheridan College and continued her education at the University of Windsor, majoring in sculpture.

Along with painting, Baird is a glass artist who specializes in a technique called “Flame-Working”.

She participates in juried art shows and contributes to contemporary craft art galleries and has a fondness for creating handheld and wearable jewellery pieces.

“I’m also an art educator and I have been involved in the art community as a practicing artist and volunteer for the Guelph Arts Council and other Arts Councils,” Baird says.

For Baird, art reflects the energy she feels around her. Through the pandemic, she says, her art is vital in helping her get through each day.

“It’s been a very emotional time and for many of my artist friends, it’s been very hard for them. For me, art helps me relax and it’s meditative. I do art everyday.”

The mother of two grown boys, Baird moved to Guelph from Toronto, 11 years ago.

“There’s so much activism and support here in Guelph. There’s so many opportunities and so much community spirit here,” Baird said.

“Protecting Us” is located outside the University Centre at the University of Guelph.

For Baird, the project was an opportunity to give back to her community.

“I believe that our community is sincerely appreciative of the efforts and expertise of our first responders, and I see this project as an opportunity to express these feelings in a tangible way to show them how much we value them,” Baird said.

“I just had to put my feelings out into the world and into this piece. I really hope all of the health care workers feel appreciated and loved.”

For more information about Natali Baird, visit, www.natali.ca.