"The most poignant show of the year was Karen Bailey's Blanche Dot Doris at Dale Smith Gallery. This April offering was a series of acrylic paintings revealing the last hurrah of the elderly ladies who pour tea and bake cookies for church socials. These women are literally a dying breed. Bailey's paintings, more sad than sentimental, captured a unique slice of Canadian social history."
Paul Gessell, Ottawa Citizen, 11 December 2008
I was in the nascent stage of my “Church Tea” series of paintings, when, as an appointed military artist (Canadian Forces Artists Programme 2006-07) I was unexpectedly chosen to work in Afghanistan.
On June 21st, 2007, the day before I flew to the Kandahar Air Base, I assisted older women preparing sandwiches at the St. Thomas church tea.
The Role 3 Hospital in Kandahar hijacked my focus. The anticipation of a lengthy flight, the intensity of my mission, the exhilaration of the experience, and resulting insatiable interest from people upon my return, threatened to exhaust me. For months, the women of St. Thomas the Apostle Anglican Church slid further onto the back burner.
It would’ve been easy to abandon the church women altogether in favour of the Canadian Forces and my Kandahar paintings but I was determined to honour the commitment to my ecclesiastic endeavour. In December, when finally able to revisit my original theme, the “Ladies Aid”, as they were formerly named, came as a welcome relief. I returned to “Blanche Dot Doris” in earnest.
In “Blanche Dot Doris” I depict older women who work together preparing food in the kitchen of an Anglican Church. Women of "The Faircrest Circle" and "The Friendly Circle" at St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Ottawa collectively acted as my muse. For over forty years the ladies have met to make sandwiches, bake, brew pots of tea, arrange flowers, and serve at gatherings after a funeral, the Christmas and Easter "Care & Share Lunch" and the annual June "Garden Party". This activity is mirrored in large and small communities across Canada.
Those who grew up in the 50’s and 60’s in a Christian tradition recall mothers and grandmothers preparing rolled sandwiches and squares for church functions. Many of these women (including my own mother) are still performing these duties albeit with bent backs and arthritic hands.
As a painter of people, I attempt to depict a sensitive moment in time whether it be an eighty year old woman serving tea to a fellow octogenarian or a medical worker treating an injured Afghani soldier. Both are acts of service but there is little heroism or glamour in the church kitchen. Blanche, Margaret, Dorothy and Joan will not receive medals nor do they expect any honours.
Our culture does not acknowledge the contribution these women make. In painting them as they perform everyday tasks in the kitchen, I seek to celebrate their beauty, dignity and generosity of spirit. "Blanche Dot Doris" highlights the contribution older Church women make to their community and the tradition they gracefully uphold.