And the glory of angels was all around.
The Bible describes angels as being mediums of God’s power who execute God’s will, revealing themselves to individual humans and sometimes to a whole nation as on the night of Christ’s birth. For Lorraine Watkiss of La Crescenta, the first angel came to her one evening in the midst of great pain, according to her husband, John Watkiss. She witnessed a golden glow on the ceiling of her bedroom. The glow transformed into an angelic face, framed by an elaborate rose petal headdress. That vision launched what became known as the Lorraingels.
Lorraine began her career as a conventional landscape artist, still life portrait artist and paintier of watercolor pictures of children. Over the years, her talents were submerged under the business of being a full-time mother and wife. When time allowed, she studied poetry, but her thoughts and actions always addressed the needs of others before herself. As her husband reminisced, “People would say that after meeting her they would feel so peaceful.” Indeed, looking at a photo of her even in her most ravaged time of discomfort, her face is luminous and radiant.
“Lorraine was a ‘natural’ hippie — at one with all things,” said Watkiss. “She never volunteered to show her talents to other people. Being naturally reticent, people usually found out about her talents by accident.”
In 1994, Lorraine learned that she had cervical cancer. With treatment she recovered, only to have the disease return in 1996 as ovarian cancer. During this time, while battling her cancer and growing weaker, she began sculpting clay heads. In 2000, the cancer surfaced in her groin area with a tumor as large as “a dinosaur egg.” After an agonizing search and at great financial cost, a surgeon in Atlanta agreed to perform surgery to remove the growth. This turned out to be detrimental to her physical well-being, and the tumor returned yet again three months later.
This terrible period brought forth the birth of Lorraine’s astounding angels. According to her husband, Lorraine had her defining moment when she could barely drag herself up the stairs to their bedroom. She thought she had left the bedroom light on, but she recounted later that this was the first time an angel appeared to her. She became obsessed with capturing the angels on paper and, just as Mozart wrote complete musical works all at once, Lorraine completed one angel per day, set to paper in its entire form without an error to the rendition.
“It was like her hand was being guided from some other place. She made no errors and knew exactly what she was doing. She would paint on into the night, not stopping until she had what was in her mind down on paper,” said Watkiss. “She was in so much pain, but I believe that these angels and the painting of them eased her pain.”
Even as her physical body weakened, her mental strength never flagged. In Lorraine’s own words, “Love connects everything.”
She created 80 incredible, awe-inspiring angels in 80 days. “I’ve got quite a lot to do before I go,” she explained.
“I feel that each angel represents the way she was feeling the day she made them,” said Irena Aghassian, a chaplain at Glendale Adventist Medical Center and the wife of Don Brooks, the hospice nurse who brought Lorraine and her angels to the attention of the chaplain’s office.
Aghassian was instrumental in convincing Bruce Nelson, head chaplain, to place copies of the paintings on display for the public in the chapel at Glendale Adventist.
When viewing the angels one can see the progression of Lorraine’s journey. It seems she traveled the world in the form of her angel faces, for they encompass almost every race on Earth.
The skirts of the angels’ dresses reflect the growth of her pain and of the tumor, for they take on a rounder shape as the journey moves forward to its inevitable conclusion. The last few angels are depicted holding a heart in their hands — a symbol of Lorraine’s incredible love of life, her family and her faith.
While Lorraine was doing the paintings, the hospice nurses came every day to view each new angel. At her deathbed, one of the hospice people noted that the entire area was surrounded by angels.
The original paintings are now stored in several huge loose-leaf books in the possession of and guarded by husband John.
There are plans to turn the paintings into a book honoring Lorraine whose angels are now known as “Lorraingels.” They will be presented in their complete sequence with text explaining the evolution and execution of the paintings and how they came to be.
“They would make great stained glass windows,” Watkiss said. Chaplain Aghassian concurred.
A celebrated and renowned artist himself, Watkiss sees a valuable message in his wife’s final works.
“Lorraine’s paintings bear witness to the fact that pain need not be expressed by the tortured and distorted offerings seen in abundance in modern art galleries these days,” he said. “Her angels show us [through] her expressive soul that love conquers all.
“She was pure in heart and always thought she would get over this. ‘I am going to heal people,’ she said. Though the cancer killed her body, it never killed her spirit.”
Lorraine Watkiss died on July 20, 2007 and is survived by her husband John and her son Laurence and daughter Elena.
The display will remain in the chapel at Glendale Adventist through the middle of this month.
The chapel is located just inside the main entrance from the Wilson Terrace (exit Harvey from the Ventura Freeway) entrance and doors to the hospital remain open until 8 p.m. The chapel is open 24 hours per day.
For more information, contact Aghassian or Bruce Nelson in the chaplain’s office at (818) 409-8008 or visit http://www.johnwatkiss.blogspot.com.