Portrait in Portsmouth

In 2020 I bid on a portrait at an auction for The Healing Garden, an organization I whole heartedly endorse. They offer many types of supportive treatments primarily for people undergoing breast cancer.

I set up an appointment for this past weekend. “I’ll send you a brochure so you have some idea what to expect,” the cheerful woman on the phone suggested. When it arrived, I began to appreciate that what in my mind was an informal photo shoot was actually a very formal sitting for a portrait, as in painted. The brochure displayed carefully composed, well dressed families, and advised we make our meal reservation two and a half hours after our appointment time.

They suggested dark clothing, as that helps the faces “pop.” This was a MUCH more formal situation than we typically create or find ourselves in, and my first impulse was to get colorful boas, wear crazy hats, or do something to inject humor in the situation.

“We don’t want to be disrespectful,” my husband admonished. He was right and I called the studio to make sure they knew we were not looking for a serious portrait.

“We’re kind of a goofy family,” I opened.

“Oh, I love goofy,” the receptionist reassured me.

“We’re going to want to have fun with this,” I added. In my mind I had us all kicking up our legs in unison, or doing “hang ten” with our hands.

“We can work with you,” she said. “The photographers are really great and they’ll do a bunch of different things.” Well, I tried to warn her. She seemed game (speaking for them) so I felt I had done my due diligence.

The photographer started with my husband sitting in a chair. I started to drape myself across him and caught the girls shaking their heads and giggling. In fact, I was supposed to sit on the arm of the chair. She continued to arrange us in various combinations and configurations, sometimes in a kind of diamond shape, other times in more of a row. We might have felt a bit contorted, but she placed us so that we looked best as a unit.

I was (mostly) cooperative, but quietly kept making suggestions about alternatives. Finally my older daughter interrupted and asked if the photographer could suggest some more playful poses.

“Sure! Why don’t you all look off in the distance to your right. Great! Now how about everyone look at Mom and Mom you look right at me.” Ah, now we were getting somewhere.

In the large room where we viewed the images projected on the wall were sample portraits. The staff person showed us the difference between a Realism finish, which looks more like a photo, and a Masterpiece finish, which can fix bad haircuts, blemishes of all description, correct a crumpled collar or take a few pounds off your waist. These are completely painted and commensurately priced.

We began the elimination process in which she would show us two different shots of the same pose, we chose our favorite, and then continue with heats of sometimes four where we chose our top pick until we were down to the last few.

She spoke to us about pricing should we like to increase from the small 11 x 14 of the auction item to something closer to the portraits we were viewing on the wall, which were 24 or 42 inches across. The results were family heirlooms that would last at least 90 years. I just had not been thinking about them this way, nor was I prepared to back this up with several thousand dollars.

The decision rested with me, as I had made the purchase and had some vision (however twisted) of the result. I opted for the one with all of us looking dreamily off to the right because we all chuckled every time it came up, and we all looked great. I plunked my plastic down to cover the lovely frame they would create to hold it, and in eight to ten weeks it will arrive.

I cannot speak highly enough of their patience, professionalism, and flexibility in working with us. We never would have had this experience were it not for the auction. Afterward we did find a spot for lunch on the water, and then drove home to be the best dressed family at Kimball’s Ice Cream. Clearly everyone there would assume that we were coming from a funeral. (“But we don’t dress in this much black even for funerals!” one of us exclaimed, and I realized this was true.)

It made for an unusual and fascinating family excursion. I will be more mindful of my bids in future auctions, but I will LOVE having the portrait on the wall. It will make me smile every time.

This photo was taken after we arrived home. Letting loose a wee bit.

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About Meg

Meg is a licensed independent clinical social worker with over thirty-five years clinical experience. She holds a Master’s Degree from the Boston University School of Social Work and a Bachelor of Arts from the State University of New York at Binghamton.