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The Art of Remembrance

May 26, 2016

Wilma Bulkin Siegel, MD, Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania ‘62, admits that war is a strange part of her history. Growing up in the late 1930s and 40s during World War II the fear of the unknown was always present, and threats of enemy attacks loomed heavily in her thoughts.

What also prevailed, she said, was a sense of unity. “The country came together to fight a single enemy. I remember many windows with flags with varying stars for servicemen in action or the gold star of those who had given their lives for our nation,” said Siegel.

In recent years, Siegel began seeing similar scenes once again with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – flags in windows, reports of nearly 10 American service members killed each day. “Certainly ‘enduring freedom’ is a worthy goal, but it comes at a very dear price,” she said.

Siegel has had a distinguished career as a prominent New York City oncologist and is noted for being a pioneer in establishing one of the first hospices in the state of New York to accept AIDS patients. Now retired, Siegel has found a way to combine medicine with her other childhood career interest, painting. 

“As a physician and an artist, I use my medical education and my art to find ways of healing people. It is my purpose in life to heal,” she said. Her process as a portrait artist is somewhat therapeutic in nature. “I must address the ‘truth’ of the individual. I observe and listen to the person before me, and paint individuals who have something to say about pertinent social issues.”

Now an award-winning artist, Siegel has done series of people living with AIDS, survivors of AIDS, survivors of breast cancer, the homeless, the elderly, and a few years ago, Holocaust survivors and their World War II liberators. “Many of these people were in the final stages of their lives, so it was more important than ever to capture their faces and the thoughts behind their eyes,” Siegel noted.

In “The Art of Remembrance, Portraits and Conversations with Veterans Returning from Iraq and Afghanistan”, Siegel turned to those who were there to help decode the purpose of this war. A collection of 12 portraits of service members and excerpts telling their stories, which was displayed in Drexel’s Paul Peck Alumni Center from May 20-25, 2015, reveals the healing process through which the individuals are going. 

Siegel felt this was a wonderful fit for the Drexel Community, especially surrounding the Memorial Day holiday, to remove the veil and unite others in their healing. “It is a conversation that I want to share with you so that we all together can better understand what the defenders of our country have gone through.”

By Margaret DeGennaro ‘12