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Stories Behind the Women in “A Sense of Herself”

Our May solo exhibit, Deborah Conn’s “A Sense of Herself,” is only open through the rest of this week. The women Conn has portrayed on paper not only “speak” to us through strong color and composition, but also through their own narratives and stories which accompany each portrait.

While you still have a few days to stop by the gallery and view the large-scale, textured portraits (and read all the stories), here’s a sneak preview of some of the amazing tales of resilience and strength:

Anila by Deborah Conn
Anila by Deborah Conn


Anila is a Pakistani Muslim woman who grew up in Virginia and Maryland. As a youth, her father forbade her to continue beyond 10th grade, and relatives arranged her marriage to secure a green card for her cousin. Her husband physically and verbally abused her, keeping her confined to the house, eventually abandoning her and their toddler and infant daughters. Today, with the help of social services groups like Homestretch and through her own persistence and determination Anila is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education and working as a classroom assistant in a Montessori school.

Ellalyne by Deborah Conn
Ellalyne by Deborah Conn


Ellalyne was born in Sierra Leone, where she changed elementary schools seven times and high schools twice because of political unrest and an unstable home situation. “One of my step-dads was the chief of Magburak in the Tonkolili District. He had several wives and children and that was a difficult situation to live in, but I did try my best to embrace the lifestyle.” Before settling in Virginia, Ellalyn lived in England, Scotland, Ireland and, briefly, Paris. She began her own business, LaBella Bridal Boutique, in Occoquan 11 years ago and is president of her local chapter of Business Network International.

Pam by Deborah Conn
Pam by Deborah Conn


Pam has made art since she was a child. Her art education took a few detours, including working in an hospital emergency room and a stint in the Air Force, where she worked on special operations helicopters and airplanes. After she left the military, she finished her degree in visual arts and took a job at the Southwest School of Art in San Francisco. “My own artmaking is a passion, but I always knew I would be more focused on helping other artists achieve their dreams and goals,” she says. Today she is executive director of the Bay School of Arts in Mathews, Virginia, where she says, she is applying the patience and empathy she learned working in hospitals, and the tolerance, discipline and flexibility she learned in the military to her current career.

Deborah Conn’s exhibit is on view in the gallery through June 3, 2018.

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