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Cheryle St. Onge Awarded 2021 Bob & Diane Fund Grant Share This on LinkedIn   Tweet This   Forward This

13 December 2021

The Bob & Diane Fund has announced photographer Cheryle St. Onge is the grantee for her photography project Calling the Birds Home.

slide show

This yearly photography grant is to support visual storytelling about Alzheimer's and dementia.

In making the award, fund founder Gina Martin noted:

Cheryle St. Onge's project, Calling the Birds Home is a beautiful tribute to her mother who recently passed away from vascular dementia. The mother and daughter collaboration is a poetic and touching portrayal of one living with dementia. Cheryle's ability to show us beauty, humor and love during a time that can be dark, sad and painful is why the Bob and Diane Fund is honored to have Cheryle St. Onge as our Grantee.

In a touching text accompanying her images, St. Onge described this project born of a "mutual and constant" love between a daughter and a mother who carved birds, both of them living on the same farm for decades:

Calling the Birds Home is a photographic exchange of the energy of life -- the give and take of the familial between mother and daughter who have lived side by side on the same New Hampshire farm for decades. Our love was mutual and constant. In 2015 my mother developed vascular dementia and with that began the loss of her emotions and her memory and the relationship of mother and daughter as we have known it for nearly 60 years.

In my mother's earlier life, she was a painter and then in the final decades she began to carve birds. A carving would begin with her vast knowledge of birds, her research and then whittling away at chunks of wood. My mother would eventually offer up an exquisite painted chickadee or barred owl, life-size and life-like.

I began to photograph her with any camera in reach -- an iPhone or an 8x10 view camera -- as a distraction from watching her fade away, as a counterbalance to conversation with her about death, as a means to capture the ephemeral nature of the moment and of life. I needed happiness and light and to share the images with others I love.

Since her death I have come to so better understand just how much of a collaboration this work was. Just how much she suggested, aided and just every damn day was enthusiastically willing to spend time with me and to make pictures together. I continue to be devastated by her absence but the profound loss is because of our love of one another.

I honor the mindset of both of my parents by, on a daily basis reminding myself that like me, they too would want only for their child to move on in life and thrive. I am not thriving but I am growing bit by bit spiritually and emotionally.

As the slide show of the project accompanying this piece shows, St. Onge has painted a moving portrait of a beloved figure. We are pleased to be able to present them here.

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