Nomi Wagner Portrait Artist

Fathers and Daughters … From Loss to Friendship: Memorial Portrait

by Nomi Wagner

Even though my father died when I was 5 years old, the emotions are still raw. When I am asked to paint portraits of my clients’ family members who have passed away, I am honored and grateful to be able do the work for them. It is heart wrenching for all of us and takes courage, but we develop deep and lasting friendships and mutual respect.

The following is a look into the journey of one such portrait:

Dear Nomi,
I had been looking online at artwork and saw one of your paintings and did a search on your name. I lost my 34 year old daughter last year to breast cancer. Can you do a painting from a photo? Thank you so very much for considering it. I would like to have a large painting done to keep in my home and later leave it to my granddaughters when they grow up. I have a few photos but this one will give you an idea what an incredible and beautiful girl she was. Her name was Shauna.

ReferencePhoto

Let me tell you a little about her if it helps in your approach. Shauna was her Daddy’s girl from the day she was born. We had hoped for a boy but when I saw that perfect baby with a perfect round head and head full of black hair nothing else mattered … she was breathtaking and perfect. In those days I was in the beginning of my career and had to work an additional part time job at night to make ends meet. I couldn’t wait to get home each night, and even though her mom would get upset with me I had to pick Shauna up out of her crib and play with her until I was ready for bed and then I would have her sleep on my chest. I loved her smell and softness. As she grew it was obvious she was special as she excelled in everything. In high school she was voted Valedictorian and while in College she carried a 4.0 GPA and received a full scholarship for ASU and law school. She was sweet, caring but very matter of fact.

I struggle so much because I spoke and texted with Shauna everyday several times, about anything and everything and we always ended our calls with, “How much do you love me Daddy?” and I would say. “I love you to the moon and back Sweetheart.” I had that saying put on her gravestone.
Don

Dear Don,
Thank you for sharing this with me. It is so heartbreaking. I read the link you sent to Shauna’s obituary and notes from people. What a dear and remarkable young woman. Was there a locale that the two of you loved and shared, so I can personalize the painting and Shauna’s clothing?
Nomi

Dear Nomi,
The last year I was able to take her several places around the world and spend quite a bit of time trying to find a doctor who would offer hope. I took her to Hawaii early last year, and she loved it. Shauna liked long strapless Hawaiian dresses. Her skin tone was incredible. She resembled my mom who was Hawaiian/Japanese. Both Shauna and I loved bright vibrant colors.

I completely trust your judgment and know I am going to love whatever you come up with. I am so grateful you are doing this. I trust your judgment, and that is what will make the painting special. This is your project, and I want your expression to guide it. God blessed me with my child, and I am honored you will get to know her through this. I am so very excited about this painting. Thank you for making me smile. Just noticed that I can order additional prints for my son-in-law and granddaughters and my new home in Hawaii, which looks out on the island of Lanai.
Don

(Email to Nancy Numazu at Kamehameha Schools in Hawaii):
Hello Nancy,
I hope you can help me. I’m painting a portrait for a man in Texas whose daughter (34 and mother of 2 young girls) passed away a year ago from breast cancer. They both loved Hawaii. They always said to each other: “How much do you love me Daddy? I love you to the moon and back Sweetheart.” He actually put those words on her gravestone. Is it possible to have this translated into Hawaiian so that I could incorporate it into the painting as a surprise for him?
Many thanks,
Nomi

Aloha e Nomi,
I’m glad that we could offer our kōkua (assistance) with something so meaningful. When I received your email I was touched with the kuleana (responsibility) that you accepted and knew right away who I could contact. The person that’s responsible for the translation is a male staff member, Lovell Keiki Kaopua a Hawaiian Resource Specialist who works here in the Program Support at Kamehameha. It’s times like this that reconfirm to us how important our work is.

Much aloha to you and the gentleman’s ‘ohana,
Nancy Numazu, Kamehameha Schools

Aloha mai e Nomi,
Figurative speech is always a challenge when translating. This is a very literal translation. ” ‘Ehia ka loa o kou aloha no’u e Pāpā? Mai i’ane’i a i ka mahina a ho’i mai ka loa o ko’u aloha nou e Ku’ulei.” I’m happy to have played a (albeit small) part in this painting. Nani maoli (a true beauty). Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or if I can help with anything else. My aloha to this ‘ohana for their loss.

Aloha,
Lovell Keiki Kaopua, Kamehameha Schools

FramedPortrait_of_Shauna

Dear Nomi,
The Painting came today. She is stunning. You are incredible, and I love you to pieces. What you did on this painting for me will NEVER be forgotten. I cannot express enough how grateful I am for your hard work. I relied on you because you are the artist and you did not disappoint me. I could not be happier. I will check out the local framers that you researched for me online. I want the frame made of Koa wood.

One bit of advice I would give to any of your clients is to do what I did, and that was to let you have free reign on coming up with a layout. Being a control freak and someone who directs every aspect of my life and the people around me that was not an easy thing to do however it was the right thing. By giving you small inputs and allowing you to come up with a painting was far better than just turning a photo into a painting. It allowed you to capture Shauna as you saw her and I could not have been happier. This process has been helpful but as you know the pain never goes away, and this is another way of continuing to keep my child close to me.
Don
PS I’m planning a trip to No. California and hope to swing by and take you and Gerry to dinner on the way back to Texas.

Nomi and Don in front of portrait of Nomi and Dad
Nomi and Don in front of portrait of Nomi and Dad

Dear Nomi,
What a wonderful treat it was to spend time with you and Gerry. Although we just met it certainly feels as though you have always been a part of my life. You have a special place in my heart and always will. I am retiring next week and will spend a few months each year in Hawaii and would love to have you two come and stay.
Don

Dear Don,
We so enjoyed and appreciated your visit! We’ll come see you when we visit our family in Texas and for sure in Hawaii!!!
Many thanks,
Nomi and Gerry

Credits and links:

Blog Post about my father in World War II, Nomi's Pesonal History, September 6, 2011

Link to Kamehameha Schools: http://www.ksbe.edu/

Link to Chris Zsarnay, who helped me place the text: http://www.zstudios.com/

Font I purchased online for this project: Hawaii Lover