A newly commission portrait of Suzanne Aubert marking the 180th anniversary of her birth was unveiled at a reception at the Home of Compassion Heritage Centre, Island Bay, in July.
Painted by Paekakariki artist Elspeth Shannon, the portrait captures the scholarly aspects of Suzanne Aubert. Elsbeth said prior to painting the portrait she knew very little about Mother Aubert. ‘I’d seen the movies How Far is Heaven and Gardening with Soul and I was given Jessie Munro’s book The Story of Suzanne Aubert to read.‘I learned Aubert was a wonderfully strong and compassionate woman who has touched so many lives. And I realised the importance to her of writing throughout her life. I wanted to depict in her face a gentle woman, but to show her strength and determination.
‘The last painting of her was done a long time ago and is very traditional. But this one shows her scholarly commitment. She knew how to communicate in French, English and Māori. I started painting layers of text into the work, some of which disappeared into the painting. I like to think the remaining text gives substance to the strong scholarly aspect of her life.’
At the unveiling Sr Margaret Anne Mills spoke of Suzanne Aubert’s anniversary as an inspiration for the Sisters of Compassion and the work she started in New Zealand in 1860 that continues 155 years on.
‘We are fortunate our story is so recent, so factual and so well documented. Much of that is due to Suzanne Aubert herself. She was a prolific writer of letters and her more scholarly works such as her work on the Māori language, her testament for the care of children and the Directory to the Sisters of Compassion, are real reminders of everything she stood for and a permanent record of her Christian commitment to the most needy in our society.
‘I think it is a wonderful picture. At first glance it is a traditional presentation of Suzanne. But a closer look reveals so much about the many facets of her life – her French origins, her commitment to the Māori people, to the needy, her scholarship and most importantly her commitment to God. All of these things are represented in this portrait. Elspeth has portrayed Suzanne with accuracy, freshness and as a woman at peace at the end of her life of achievement and service.’
Sr Margaret Anne also thanked the commissioning donor, ‘for the recognition this portrait brings to Suzanne Aubert and for the wonderful work of art that is ours to use for promotion of the legacy of Suzanne Aubert for the years to come.’