Detroit Lakes artist Anna Lassonde has often taught classes and hosted painting parties as part of her home-based business, Jollybird Studio. But since the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown began, that hasn't been possible.

"It's really hard to just sell artwork (and make a living that way)," Lassonde said in a recent telephone interview.

But the pandemic has inspired a new art series that shines the spotlight on frontline workers.

As she was brainstorming ideas for keeping her business afloat, Lassonde started working on a mixed media, Easter Sunday-themed project for her father, Rev. Mark Flaten, who currently serves two rural North Dakota congregations. He also writes faith-based articles for his local community newspaper, the Steele County Press, and Lassonde often illustrates the articles for him.

"He has a unique job as a rural pastor, supporting rural churches," Lassonde said. "He's also pastored a Mennonite Church in the past. He's ordained by the Assemblies of God but he's always been open to serving in other denominations if there is a need.

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"He's one of the best people out there," she continued. "I admire his love for his communities. He spends time writing a weekly article for the community paper just because he likes to share hope and faith."

Lassonde was working on the illustration for her father's latest column, "How the Virus Stole Easter," and was inspired to create what she described as a "blackout picture on a white background" that showed a church where the lights were out, surrounded by homes and apartment buildings where families were gathered inside, celebrating Easter on their own.

This black-and-white illustration by Detroit Lakes artist Anna Lassonde was used to illustrate a newspaper article written by her father, Rev. Mark Flaten, for publication in his local community newspaper, the Steele County Press, as well as the Annetta Star and Hatton Free Press, all in North Dakota. (Anna Lassonde / Special to the Tribune)
This black-and-white illustration by Detroit Lakes artist Anna Lassonde was used to illustrate a newspaper article written by her father, Rev. Mark Flaten, for publication in his local community newspaper, the Steele County Press, as well as the Annetta Star and Hatton Free Press, all in North Dakota. (Anna Lassonde / Special to the Tribune)

"I was celebrating the fact that we could still have Easter, just not in the church," she said, adding, "A church isn’t the building, it’s the people."

That illustration inspired her to create a larger piece of art, also using an Easter theme.

"I had a bunch of newspapers with current headlines," she said, so she picked out several of them with coronavirus and Easter themes, and made a collage that would serve as the background for a large painting.

"I do mostly acrylic paintings," she said, adding that she has worked with watercolors as well.

As she was working on this project, a friend of hers saw it and suggested that she incorporate some portraits of nurses with their face masks on — and a concept was born.

"So I posted about it on my personal (Facebook) page," she said. "I asked some of my friends who were health care workers to post a selfie with their mask on — but I made sure to say it was being used in a project. I wanted to make sure people were OK with me using their images.

"I had a huge response," she said, adding that seven portraits were included in the 24-by-40-inch mixed media piece.

Anna Lassonde (Submitted photo)
Anna Lassonde (Submitted photo)

A former health care worker herself, Lassonde said she's pretty grateful not to be working in that setting during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"It's such a weird thing that's happening with this virus, and how the world has changed — how scary it is to even work in health care right now," she said. "I feel fortunate that I'm not going to have to do it, but I feel for my friends who are, and just wanted to show how much I appreciated them."

The large artwork that resulted from that initial inspiration led to an even bigger project: creating individual, 11-by-14-inch portraits of essential workers, also wearing their masks, each painted on top of a paper collage of pandemic-related headlines. Lassonde posted an offer to paint these portraits for workers on the front lines of the pandemic at a 30% discount.

"I was paying for the shipping too," she said. "A lot of people were buying them as gifts for nurses that they knew, and I think that's super cool."

Since she started the project in mid-April, she's continued to receive requests, and added that she will still do them for anyone who wants one.

This Easter Sunday and coronavirus-inspired mixed media collage by Detroit Lakes artist Anna Lassonde features seven portraits of local health care workers on the front lines of the pandemic. (Anna Lassonde / Special to the Tribune)
This Easter Sunday and coronavirus-inspired mixed media collage by Detroit Lakes artist Anna Lassonde features seven portraits of local health care workers on the front lines of the pandemic. (Anna Lassonde / Special to the Tribune)

"I really enjoy doing them," Lassonde said, adding that she tailors each portrait to the person, with a headline collage in the background that fits the individual being portrayed. "Each portrait is a bit opaque, so you can see the headlines coming through. That big piece I did initially actually has Easter hymns on it as well."

Lassonde said she plans to auction off that larger painting for a future benefit to offset some of her family's medical expenses; more information on the Team Lassonde Benefit & Online Auction can be found at lendahandup.org as well as on Facebook. Her studio is at her home in rural Detroit Lakes, which she shares with husband Fred and their two young children, Silas and Aviana.

"She (Aviana) is a little artist too," Lassonde said.

Get your pandemic portrait art

To request one of Anna Lassonde's pandemic-inspired, individualized portraits, visit JollybirdStudio.com or the Jollybird pages on Facebook and Instagram. Messages can also be sent via email at jollybird@hotmail.com.

More examples of Lassonde's pandemic-inspired art can be found at www.jollybirdstudio.com/people-portraits.