Kathryn Rutherford Blog Header

Kathryn Rutherford Blog Header

Sunday, May 9, 2010

I Remember Mama

"A mother is she who can take the place of all others
but whose place no one else can take."

Cardinal Mermillod 1824-1892


    Today is Mother's Day.  In honour of all Mothers around the world, I thought the best subject of today's post would be about the importance of capturing images of the women in your life. 
     Most of the postings on this site are about photographic restorations and the history and insights into photography.  Today's subject is going to deviate just a little bit.  It will not only involve photography, but original artwork as well.  It is still, all about Mama.
    In 2009, a new restaurant was to open in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, called "Mama's Farmhouse". The all-you-can-eat menu would consist of recipes from the personal collection of the female matriarch of the owner's family.  Country Fried Steak, Roasted Pork, Sweet Potato Casserole, Banana Pudding, Peach Cobbler.... and so much more, all made from scratch from Mama's original recipes and served in abundance.  YUM, YUM!
    The entire decor of the restaurant was to be a photographic history of Mama and her descendants.   Mama's own portrait was to become the trademarked symbol of the restaurant, but there was a problem. There were no appropriate photographs of Mama that could be used as the trademark or as the focal point of the restaurant's decor. 
    Only two photographs existed of Mama. One was from the early 1900's where Mama stood in the living room of the family home surrounded by her husband and children and a framed and shrouded portrait of a deceased member of the family. (This was one way to take a family portrait and include members that had already passed on.)  Mama had a head in the professional looking portrait, but her main body and shoulders were obscured by other family members.  Mama was in her late 20's at the most in this picture. 
    I was able to take this photograph and airbrush out the other members of the family to create a younger version of Mama, but, this certainly would not do for the restaurant's trademark portrait.
    The only other photograph ever taken of Mama was recorded at the end of her life just before her death in 1963.  The problem with this photograph was that it was a tiny, blurry image of Mama standing outdoors in bright sunlight with two other unknown woman......wearing a hat. For the restaurant's trademark portrait Mama needed to be looking aged, yet lovely, and as most of the family remembered her, but definitely not blurry and out of focus and, most certainly, NOT wearing a hat.
    With the recommendation of other artists and framers, the owners arrived at my Heirloom Art Studio in hopes that I would be able to assist with the retouching, enlargement and restoration of the family portraits for the restaurant decor.  They also hoped that, with my reputation as a fine art portrait artist, I would be able to create a portrait of Mama suitable for the trademark and name of the restaurant.  This was going to be a challenge, but one that I could certainly enjoy as my specialty.
     The family set about locating one photograph after another which I would subsequently enhance, colour correct, restore, enlarge and deliver for framing. Creating the needed portrait for Trademark Registration, would take an entirely different route.
    After enlarging the 1900's portrait of Mama to a 20x24 image and airbrushing out the other family members, I delivered a key portrait of Mama (seen in the top photograph above) framed in an antique reproduction walnut oval frame with convex curved glass. Mama appeared in all her early beauty and was hung on the wall of the restaurant.  Now began the fun part.
    Did you know that all of human anatomy is mathematical?  Every part of the head and body can be measured to exact size and standards.  What is more fascinating is that the body, in particular the head, ages mathematically as well.  The eyes recess into the eye sockets according to measurements, the ears drop, the chin line becomes less than smooth and all shifts according to a ratio of measurements of proportion to age. 
    You see this mathematical shift miraculously happen on forensic television shows through the advances of digital technology, but my studio isn't as supplied with that high end digital software.  We would simply have to rely on the original art and proportion knowledge on which the software is based and upon which I am greatly familiar.
    Let us get to work.
    I first scanned the negative of the newly created portrait of Mama in her twenties into my computer.  Using digital brushes from high end drawing software, I began to hand draw on top of the first portrait (no buttons were pushed to accomplish this task) to age Mama into her seventies as the customer had requested.  The only point of reference which I had to make the changes were my years of knowledge and expertise, mathematical calculations and the very blurry photograph from 1960. 
    Slowly and surely Mama's skin sagged, muscles relaxed, her hair thinned and lost it's colour.  Her chin line became less defined yet the sparkle in her eyes and that tiny little smirk of hers remained.  When my digital drawing was completed Mama was at last, and incredulously, delivered to the customer appropriately aged into her seventies and in appearing in full colour.
    The customer was delighted and said the portrait was an exact depiction of what the current descendants remembered of her.  I was, once again, overjoyed by my accomplishment and breathed a sigh of relief that this major portion of the restaurant project was complete.
    Or....perhaps I was a bit too hasty in my contentment.
    Within a week, the customer phoned stating that perhaps Mama was a bit too old (and unfattering?) to be a permanent Registered Trademark.  The portrait was certainly considered accurate, but would it be possible to reduce her age to her fifties and create a portrait more lovely in nature?  Why certainly, was my reply and I set to work just as before to age Mama once again, only to stop this time short of the math that would take her too far into her "golden years". 
    Mama, in her seventies, was attired in the customary sweater she always wore and which was seen in the blurry photograph the family provided.  If Mama were to appear in her fifties, I would have to get creative and find appropriate clothing for the new portrait.
    According to my calculations, Mama would have been fifty in the 1920's.  Eeek!   This would have been the Roaring 20's, the days of the "Flapper" dresses and clothing slightly riske for a trademarked portrait.  Fashion sported sleeveless dresses in the scoop necked t-shirt style and, although this was high fashion and certainly appropriate for the time, I didn't think it would make a good head and shoulders trademark for our distinguished Mama.  To the history books and fashion plates!! 
    After pouring through several publications in my vast library and drawing upon my many years as a stage and costume designer, I finally located the perfect dress for Mama on a 1925 magazine cover.  Mama would appear in a soft coral pink chiffon dress with lace bodice appropriate to the twenties yet sophisticated for her age and representation of the restaurant.
    I delivered the portrait and the client was, yet again, pleased and overjoyed with my work. Mama had been brought back and would now be well represented throughout the Farmhouse Restaurant in several stages of her life.   A large convex glass oval portrait was displayed in the lobby above an ornate fireplace and mantle.  Next to the mantle would hang a large, original family tree and history of Mama and her descendants which I also hand painted and framed for the customer. 
    Mama's Farmhouse Restaurant opened in the spring of 2009 with a VIP Reception to which I was pleased to be invited as a guest of honour and pose for pictures in front of Mama's Portrait with Mama's descendants and owners Bruce Johnson and Melinda (left) and Kelly and Jonathan Wimmer (right).

    Mama was a Great Great Grandmother instead of just someone's Mother.  Through the knowledge of Mathematics and the talents and skills of my artwork, I was able to bring her back and deliver her to a family, but it is important to remember that nothing can replace an original photograph of a loved one.  I might be able to substitute a Mother's photograph but nothing can take a Mother's place.
    Today, on this Mother's Day Sunday, get out the camera, take lots of photographs and know that each and every day henceforth you can say......I remember Mama. 
    My daughter, Tania Renae, is, at this very moment, on a plane returning home from a visit to a friend in British Columbia.  She has already phoned with her best wishes for my good day and says her appearance tonight, loaded with hugs, will be my special Mother's Day gift after her absence.  I couldn't ask for anything more.
    To my mother, Betty Ives, in Ontario, Canada, and to all Mother's, and Mother's to Be everywhere, I wish you all an equally joyous Happy Mother's Day.  Here's hoping your day is filled with sunshine, laughter and lots of family with camera's. 

Click here
to view more about the Opening Reception
of Mama's Farmhouse Restaurant
and see more of the artwork of Kathryn Rutherford


  1. Kathryn, I'm so happy to finally see *more* of your amazing work!

  2. Thank you Nuccia. I'm so glad to hear from you.