Contemporary votive illustrations: Apple tree

To accompany our current exhibition ‘Infinitas Gracias: Mexican miracle paintings‘, we’ve been working with professional illustrators to produce contemporary votive illustrations based on stories submitted by visitors to Wellcome Collection and to our website. Just as Mexican ex-voto paintings were made by painters to tell stories of thanks, we want to hear contemporary stories of gratitude and explore the process of exchange between storyteller and illustrator.

Mercedes Leon: Apple tree

Mercedes Leon: Apple tree

Mercedes Leon’s first illustration is for this story:

In the front garden of my old grandmother’s house, there was (and still is) a large apple tree. When I was very young, my eldest brother Tom would climb it (against my grandfather’s wishes) and I have a vivid memory, of one afternoon one summer, when my grandfather caught him shaking apples off the branches, which fell and bruised on the lawn below. I was probably only five at the time, but it sticks with me. He got a thrashing for it but he didn’t care! A few years later, my brother began to slowly develop severe depression, which ended in a diagnosis of schizophrenia. For many, many years he became more and more reclusive, and would avoid talking and socialising; the illness and effect of medications severely hampered his desire or ability to do most things. He closed down in many ways and it affected all of the family in a big way. Recently my grandmother (who always managed to stay close to my brother and show him great affection) passed away. In some strange way, this woke up my brother and when my parents decided to move in to my grandmother’s old house, my brother started to help in the garden. I visited a week ago and my mother and father asked me to help them pick apples from the very same tree that my brother had climbed. My brother (who would rarely venture outside his room and often sat in the dark alone) also came out to the tree. As I picked apples high up a ladder I dropped them down to him and he caught them. We spent a whole afternoon doing it and it was and has been one of the happiest afternoons of my life. “Don’t pick the unripe ones,” my brother hollered up at me. It was a crisp, sunny day and he caught every apple I dropped down, gently placing them in the basket. Each and every apple I picked and passed to him, via the force of gravity, felt and feels like a small miracle bringing us, after so many years, closer together again.

J Harvey, Ash Green, Hampshire, 1980-2011. For my grandmother, for planting the tree.

You can find out more about Mercedes Leon’s work and explore more votive illustrations on the Wellcome Collection website.

Could your gratitude inspire a votive? Tell us your story, and it could form the basis for an illustration.

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