Women models of all shapes and sizes participate along with volunteer artists in Celebrate the TaTas Paint Day Aug. 21, organized by North Pinellas Hadassah chapter. Photographs of the body paintings will be exhibited at local galleries and sold at a gala dinner on Sunday, Oct. 27, with proceeds to benefit breast cancer research at Hadassah Medical Center in Israel.
The first of 54 models at the Celebrate the TaTas Paint Day Aug. 21 emerged from her three-sided tent quietly, a bit shy about the painting that had blossomed on her bare torso.
This was as event organizers had expected: models wrapped in robes walking serenely from their session with an artist to another private space set up for photography. But as the momentum of the day grew, the atmosphere changed. By mid-day, the participants women circled around the pink tents as the models emerged and bravely showed off the living canvas that was their chests.
“Such beauty captured on a torso was unbelievable,” organizer Renee Fromkin later wrote. “Everyone was so proud of their art, they couldn’t wait to show it to everyone in the room.”
The strength of sisterhood spirit and freedom to be proud of one’s body, no matter what had happened to it, was not something Fromkin nor event co-chair Barbara Baccari had anticipated for the day.
“It didn’t matter how old you were, or young. It didn’t matter if you had breasts or if you didn’t,” she said. “It was a serious issue, but there was so much joy in that room … It was so much better than I thought it would be.”
The event – organized by the north county chapters of Hadassa, a national woman’s group – was the first part of a campaign to benefit breast cancer research at Hadassah Medical Center in Israel. The idea came from a chapter in Charlotte, N.C., and the emulated concept was the same: the painted bodies would be photographed – from chin to naval to preserve anonymity – and sold to raise funds.
A total of 54 models of all shapes and sizes gathered at the Temple B’nai Israel in Clearwater for the paint day. The women were in their 20s, their 80s and every decade in between.
“We had a really good range of people; it really made it fun,” Baccari said. “The older women were just so excited to be a part of this.”
Twelve of the models were breast cancer survivors.
“Take it for what it’s worth: I’m going to be a model,” said two-time survivor Ellen Richter. “I want to be out of my comfort zone and be daring.”
All of the models had been impacted by the disease in some way, either as family or friends of patients. Many participated in memory of those who had struggled and not survived.
Baccari said she found the older women especially inspiring. As members of a different generation, the experience required a larger step of bravery that they tackled with gusto, she explained.
“I think it was a brave statement for many women,” she said.
The experience also was an expression of defiance against the disfiguring effects of breast cancer.
“Breasts are our symbol of our womanhood,” Baccari said. “When they are removed, I think people feel like they’re not beautiful.”
The event allowed women to take charge of their bodies, reclaim their femininity and in turn, receive a tremendous amount of support from their community. The women gathered were no less excited to see the paintings on older or larger bodies than they were to see those on young, thin women, she said.
“I think the women learned that there is a place to be very positive about what’s happened to them,” Baccari said.
One model confessed, “I didn’t know I was an exhibitionist!” Another said she couldn’t reconcile “how you feel you look with the image you see in the photo.”
“I find this to be totally liberating!” said Joyce Tawil.
The Hadassa volunteers recruited professional artists and photographers for the event.
“Not one artist had ever painted a body painting,” Baccari said. “They were amazing.”
The paintings were varied and creative. A woman who had undergone a bilateral mastectomy had Van Gough’s Starry Night strewn across her chest. Another survivor who had a mastectomy without reconstructive surgery asked for a red, white and blue painting that included the Statute of Liberty and an eagle.
An older woman celebrated her remission by having her breasts painted into the pendant ears of a basset hound, which sported a pink bow on its head. One woman asked to have the phrase “Life is just a bowl of cherries,” come alive on her chest. A former boxer played off the phrase “Fight for the cure” with a painting of boxing gloves hung around her neck.
“There were so many clever ones,” Baccari said.
The daylong event was very carefully scheduled and organized so as to be very sensitive to people’s reasons for participating, she explained. Registered nurses tested models for allergies before they could participate. Organizers served breakfast, lunch, snacks, desserts and cocktails. The room was up like a spa, offering massages, brow treatments and mini-facials while models waited. The services and products offered were all donated.
“There were so many women who had certainly gone through so much and yet there was so much joy,” Baccari said. “You could just feel it; it was so wonderful.”
The paint day was a precursor to a gala dinner on Sunday, Oct. 27, 5 p.m., at St. Petersburg Marriott, 12600 Roosevelt Blvd., St. Petersburg. Tickers are $136. The event will feature
Dr. Peter Blumencranz, medical director of Comprehensive Breast Program and Cancer Services for Morton Plant Mease Health Care. The internationally recognized breast surgeon has been widely involved in clinical research projects including breast cancer mapping studies and trials designed to validate the efficacy of accelerated partial breast irradiation.
The photographs of the living canvases will be unveiled at a VIP party for sponsors on Oct. 17 in Safety Harbor. The art then will be sold at the conclusion of the gala dinner.
Though the project hasn’t seen fruition yet, frequent volunteer Baccari said the experience has been “the most wonderful project I’ve ever worked on.” She said she didn’t have any trouble recruiting women to be a part of the campaign.
“I have never seen women work so hard and be so enthusiastic,” she said.
Volunteers and artists have already asked about next year’s event. The organizers have talked about the possibility, but haven’t formally decided to do it yet, Baccari said. But given the enthusiasm and positive response, even before the final event, she suspects the inaugural campaign will become an annual venture.