Elegant Czech Survivor
Updated: Aug 16
Chelsea Arts Club, London, Summer Group Exhibition 2022
"You can see me as a carefree child, born on 6th May 1923 in Male Svatonovice, Bohemia, Czechoslovakia. My father was Josef Uhlir, a significant local figure in public life, and an exact contemporary and neighbour of Czech novelist Karel Capek, who created an idyllic vision of childhood for generations of young Czech readers. You can read about it in his iconic Czech children's books."
“I kept this photo of me as a daring 20 year old. Imagine a Czech girl having to smile at the official camera in the Nazi Protectorate of Bohemia in 1943! This is my stamped Nazi ID card photo which allowed me to stay in Eastern Bohemia, working on a local farm instead of being deported to slave labour factory work in Germany. That was a great new beginning back in 1943! Dressing up and looking good however bad things became was my small rebellion."
"Then came the stifling years of the Russians and Communism. We all needed a fantasy life to escape a little and fashion was one way through the many dark years of my adult life. We only had synthetic fabrics for the dresses I made. Cotton, linen and wool were luxuries for the Party bigwigs and their wives and girlfriends. I made everything from scratch. And I always made the most of what we had. Here I am baking in my kitchen in the year of the Velvet Revolution, when I turned 66."
"This is me at 85. A lot has changed. But look at my eyes. They show my zest for life throughout all those years. There were many ups and downs. You could worry about those. But my best advice for all of you is to just keep going."
Hana Hejnova (1923 – 2013)
Any process from the sale of my picture will be donated to Ukraine Crisis Appeal.
I worked closely together with Hana as we created her final portrait, incorporating all of her own styling ideas.
These gold earrings were given to her by her father for christening, made to order and set in Czech granite from Turnov, near Prague. The lace collar was a gift from Hana's best friend for life, Libuse, who she met at her finishing school in Ceska Skalice. Libuse was the best at lace making and she gave Hana her pretty collar to make an everyday blouse or jumper stand out. Hana treasured her healthy signature look with glowing rosy cheeks, as well her carefully styled hair - which she called her "crown". I photographed her in a favourite armchair with a throw she had made together with the curtains in front of the bookcase.
Her identity, with her straight up posture, wide curious eyes and smile had never changed.