St Mary’s School’s poignant ‘Portraits of a Pandemic’ project

St Mary’s School’s poignant ‘Portraits of a Pandemic’ project

26 May 2021

St Mary’s School, Cambridge – a leading independent day and boarding school – has created a collection of poignant portraits that capture its staff, alumnae and NHS workers in the pieces of personal protective equipment (PPE) they have been wearing throughout the pandemic.

The 74 images have been unveiled in a special online gallery on the St Mary’s website. A private viewing of the portraits will also take place on 24 June at the prestigious school’s Art Centre No. 47 in Bateman Street – coinciding with the Government’s planned final step in lifting COVID restrictions in England.

Designed to celebrate the heroic efforts of key workers, who tirelessly went about their business throughout the pandemic, the emotive images create a lasting record of a strange time in everyone’s lives. The project, officially named ‘Portraits Preserving Experiences (PPE) in Lockdown’, was inspired by UK portraiture artist Thomas Croft and his famous ‘Portrait for NHS Heroes’ paintings.

The unique process used to create the touching images began with Ms Conroy, Head of the Visual Arts Department at St Mary’s School, taking socially distanced portrait photographs of each subject and then developing these with digital drawing techniques. Each photograph was manipulated and drawn using filters and a stylus that allowed Ms Conroy to draw on computer as if it were paper. Year 13 students at St Mary’s then worked in traditional media creating their own artistic responses to the digital portraits, which will also be on show at the exhibition.

Commenting, Ms Conroy said: “Within the Visual Art department here at St Mary’s, we wanted to create a permanent reminder of the last year and give our staff the chance to reflect upon what they have experienced whilst working throughout the pandemic. We also wanted to reach out to NHS workers and St Mary’s Alumnae, whose contributions have been vital and unwavering throughout this challenging time. The stories we heard were both humbling and incredibly inspiring to our students, and the resulting images will be a lasting record that we can all look back on in years to come.”

Headmistress at St Mary’s School, Cambridge, Charlotte Avery, added: “This project is a truly fitting tribute to all we have learnt throughout the last year and is a powerful reminder to our students that we must recognise the value, need and importance of key workers in our society today. Like other teachers across the country, our dedicated team at St Mary’s adapted swiftly to the pandemic in 2020 – embracing new ways of working to continue delivering a first-class education to pupils. Students have obviously been back in school for several weeks. However, with wider aspects of society now opening up again, it seemed an appropriate time to hold this exhibition and take a moment to reflect upon this past year.”

Kathryn Pugh, Deputy Head of Mental Health – Children and Young People’s Mental Health Programme Lead, NHS England, said:

“I was really moved that the students wanted to understand and celebrate the many unheard experiences of the pandemic through this very personal approach and I was thrilled to participate. These portraits and the exhibition show us what we have to look forward to from the next generation – care, thoughtfulness, originality of vision and talent.”

‘Portraits Preserving Experiences (PPE) in Lockdown’ will be on display from 24 June at St Mary’s dedicated ‘No. 47’ Art and Photography Centre, situated on Bateman Street, Cambridge.

A private view for a select number of guests will take place that day from 5:30pm – 7:30pm.

Members of the public that want to see a selection of images online can visit the online gallery at:

Read next

Member Zone

Lost your password?
Find a school Login