Ellen's narrative about these portraits:
David Carrasco is the Neil L. Rudenstine Professor of the Study of Latin America at the Harvard Divinity School. He is also a longtime friend – my husband Don and I attended Western Maryland College (now McDaniel College) together with him during the late 1960s.
David is a Mexican American with family roots in El Paso, Texas, causing him to be profoundly impacted by the horrific killing of 23 Mexicans and Mexican Americans by one shooter in the El Paso Walmart on August 3, 2019. In the year following the murders, he journeyed to the Walmart parking lot where a memorial to the victims, the “Grand Candela,” was created. His surprise at not finding the names of the victims written on the memorial at the time of his visit led him to write an essay entitled “Saying the Mexican Names,” a shout-out to all of us about the importance of remembering the humanity and unique existence of real people whose lives were in an instant snuffed out by gun violence.
I was deeply moved by David’s remembering of the victims and compassionate perspective, as a Mexican American himself, on the tragedy. His words brought me to the point of realizing my desire to paint portraits of each of the 23 people murdered. Not knowing when I began painting if I could make such a project a reality, I started painting one portrait a day, each on a 9” x 12” canvas, throughout the month of October, 2020. Painting the portraits became kind of a daily mantra for me, choosing the colors and photograph to work from for each person, recreating as much as possible a kind of visual vitality in paint to honor their life on earth. Initially, I looked up online pictures and info, whatever I could find, about each person and that is what hooked me into doing the paintings. They became real people. And spinning off of the importance of knowing and remembering their names, I decided to look up a legendary or mythological or cultural meaning of each name and incorporate that into each painting.
Fortunately, Don and I together were able to literally “wrap up” my other goal of creating the portraits by getting the appropriate addresses of the victims’ families, with the help of leaders in El Paso and staff at the Harvard Divinity School, and mailing each portrait as a gift to a family member of each of the victims. Most of them arrived on Christmas Eve of last year, 2020. Since the murders, leaders of the city of El Paso have been constructing a Healing Garden to honor the victims and encourage community and unity with one another. The garden is scheduled to be opened and dedicated on the 2nd year anniversary of the tragedy, August 3rd, 2021.