Midwife and Nursemaid

Midwife and Nursemaid

While Sheila gave birth to her story, artist Persimmon Blackbridge acted as midwife and nursemaid. Another 1951 product of the post-war baby boom, Persimmon grew up in the United States and moved to Vancouver in her teens.  Recovering from a breakdown at age eighteen, she became an artist, a lesbian and a feminist. Much of Persimmon’s art is political in nature, and her subject is often the people in her life and their experiences.

Persimmon was someone who not only asked the next question, but really asked it from a very knowing place… And it was kind of okay to talk about. Then that inspired her, being an artist, to want to do an art piece on the subject of lesbians being locked up for being lesbians. – Sheila

photo of red woman sculpture, face and shoulders and UNLADYLIKE stamped across chest
Unladylike behaviour, detail

Sheila and Persimmon met in a life drawing/ life sculpture group – Sheila was the model and Persimmon was the artist. As the two got to know each other, part of what connected them was sharing about their histories as psychiatric survivors. The two had a short and intense romantic relationship, and a much longer artistic alliance.

What started as a couple of sculptures turned into a three-year collaboration. Persimmon constructed molds of Sheila’s body and used them to create a series of life size clay figures.  Sheila wrote stories about her experience of being institutionalized, which were inscribed on the sculpture pieces.  Art that incorporated the visual and the written was still seen as out-of-the-ordinary in the mid-1980s.

Basically Sheila did the writing, I did the art work but I was her editor and she was my co-conspirator, like she came up with a lot of the ideas for the sculpture and she was always saying “Okay that’s working…oh no, that’s not working” and so we had our fingers all over both pies and so did a lot of other people. – Persimmon