It seems that many adults in the UK embraced a new hobby during lockdown to boost their mental or physical health. A poll of 2,000 adults in 2021 found more than one third took up a new activity during the pandemic. The majority chose one linked to some form of mindfulness to help keep calm in the unchartered waters that the pandemic forced us all into.(https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/uk-lockdown-new-hobbies-pandemic-b1820506.html)
For Degard, keeping calm meant reflecting on earlier times; reflecting back on how her ancestors had lived and died. The first discovery she made was that her grandmother had escaped Germany just before World War II in 1939 via Amsterdam and not on a train directly from Germany.
Degard says, “Looking into one’s family history is like being a detective and www.ancestry.com made the process possible. All of a sudden, I was viewing my grandmother’s handwritten wedding certificate from Germany in 1934, then a visa entry document into Amsterdam in 1939, and then intern documents into the UK in 1939 and then the story of my family grew…”
As a member of a large German-Jewish family, Degard knew that her relatives had suffered at the hands of the Nazis during The Holocaust but had no idea of the depth of this story.
The process, Degard said became ‘compulsive’. With the help of Ancestry.com, she embarked on a journey that allowed her to locate and find out more about many of her long-lost family members in ways she never thought possible.
Degard uncovered the records of many new and half-remembered relations – making the heart-breaking discovery that at least 21 of her relatives had perished in concentration camps including in Auschwitz, Treblinka, Theresienstadt and Riga during World War II.
These shocking findings allowed her to finally begin to meet these lost ancestors – simply by name, date of birth, place of birth and date of death and, horrifically in many cases, place of death.
However, there is no clear method of getting to know these long lost relations now that all contemporaries have died. There is often no photographic evidence of them, no remnants – a treasured ring, a small token which they had loved, no writings or drawings they had left within the family. It was only through Ancestry.com, joining up with Holocaust records in the archives that Degard has had the opportunity to discover even their names.
And because Degard’s artistic approach is Visionary, it made sense to connect with her ancestors through the Visionary. Degard combined her distinctive ability to see and interpret auras with her passion for painting, bringing each of her re-discovered ancestors ‘back to life’ through the artistic method known as Spirit Portraiture.
Spirit portraiture allows Degard to act as a psychic medium, picking up the vibration of that person and then putting that energy into paint. Alongside the person’s facial features which incredibly appear, the aura is also revealed.
The entire process Degard says is incredible. From never having heard of a family member suddenly they are with you – she says: “we are once again united. The portraits bring the energetic presence of the person back into being. The colours within the body of the person are their aura. Each colour and pattern bring different meanings for me. For example, gold is money, red is passion and pain,’
The final result is a Spirit Portrait. Degard finds the creation of each work also brings her a deep sense of healing and closure. By discovering who the members are within her family tree and celebrating each individual as a unique person, she’s able to form relationships with relatives she never knew existed.
Three years on from the first lockdown, Degard is now showing the results of this research in an upcoming solo show at The Visionary British Museum on Great Russell Street in London. The Visionary Wall – Meeting my Ancestors Lost in The Holocaust, opens on Friday 7th April 2023.
Degard will show both the Spirit Portraits of her own ancestors as well as those of other Holocaust victims whose lives were so cruelly cut short. By exploring the unique auras of these lost souls, visitors to the exhibition will be able to celebrate their lives and personalities and find healing and connection in their own personal journeys.
Degard has realised the power of her work when it came to healing her inter-generational trauma and now wants to offer the benefits of this process to others who are suffering.
On Sunday 9th April 2023, Degard is offering attendees the opportunity to have their own deceased relatives’ unique auras analysed and translated into a meaningful piece of art which they can treasure forever. All that is required is the name of their deceased relative and ideally their background history for her to work from. Tickets are available here.
All of the pieces featured in The Visionary Wall – Meeting my Ancestors Lost in The Holocaust are available to purchase here.