Boonham has made what has been described as a definitive bronze portrait of Dame Cicely Saunders OM : the first portrait of a woman in the collection of the Royal College of Physicians, London.
Sculpting Dame Cicely Saunders, a Visionary
Dame Cicely was a perfect subject for a life-and-a-quarter scale portrait that would enhance the sculptural qualities of her face. My first job was to persuade her to relinquish her large (and un-sculptural) spectacles. In the portrait I wanted to emphasise Dame Cicely’s eyes, which are large and limpid, to express her visionary nature. I was keen to portray the woman who has fearlessly looked death in the face, changing our perception of it and revolutionised the way we deal with levels of pain. I asked in one sitting what was her view of euthanasia, the reply was characteristic: “ There is no need for euthanasia, no one has to die in pain because we can control it”.
Trying to penetrate Dame Cicely’s character and understand her personal side was extremely difficult: she was very adept at deflecting my subtle probing questions during the ten sittings and talking about her work. I seemed to perceive a private core that was a no-go area but I later discovered this was not correct. Beneath the vocation that she was impelled into, which is an extraordinary story of dedicated belief, a sustained long view and sheer hard work, I was confused to find what appeared to be an enigmatic blank space. Then I realised I was looking at a person wholly at one with her work, what the Hindus would call a karma yogi, someone made selfless through action. At her core is a deep spiritual calm, one that facilitates a lightning understanding and continuous alertness to any possibilities to further the work. This clarity generates an apparent ferocity of decision and drive that appears formidable: Dame Cicely’s own phrase looking at the portrait throughout the sittings has been “I wouldn’t like to cross her!”
However this is the professional side, the fundraiser, the hospice builder, the financial tightrope walker: attributes of the staying power of a practical visionary getting a job done. Balancing this is the woman who has enormous compassion and sensitivity that has been behind her ability to identify with the dying. There is also the intellect that finds a way to alleviate pain and solve the problems of managing it. All these characteristics stem from a deep spiritual conviction. Making a portrait of someone like Dame Cicely has a profound attraction for me and she was a fascinating sitter. It has been a great privilege and I hope this has all managed to enter the clay and bronze. In accord with a fundamentally selfless nature, Dame Cicely is adamant that the sculpture will not be displayed during her lifetime in the Hospice (and perhaps because every morning she would have to ‘cross’ the bronze Cicely Saunders to reach her office).