A Pencil in His Hand

I am not an artist I am a retired pediatric nurse by profession, a mom, a grandmother, a gardener.

In January of 2017, I suddenly found myself with time on my hands and decided to learn to draw. I never took art lessons, but I had skimmed a library book on drawing years earlier and enjoyed thinking about it. Little did I know what God had in store.

I bought a pad and pencil and began searching the Internet for inspiration. One day I came across a photograph of a little boy, and somehow, I knew I was supposed to draw him, although I didn’t know if I could. Have you ever experienced this sense of knowing before? That soul-deep, indisputable knowledge we feel when the Holy Spirit is at work?

Taking a seat at my kitchen table, I began to sketch. In just a few hours, something utterly amazing happened. That little boy looked out of the paper at me, and I said, “Well, hello little darling.” I turned to my husband and exclaimed, “Oh my goodness, there’s a little boy in there.” It seemed as if he had been hiding in the paper just waiting for me to bring him to life.

In just a few days, I finished his portrait, and little Hersch became part of my life. What I didn’t know when his little face first leapt off of the screen and into my heart was that he was murdered at Auschwitz when he was only five years old. I couldn’t fathom that someone had killed this beautiful little boy simply because he was a Jew.

After Hersch, I began searching for other children who had died in the Holocaust—for those whom photographs still existed of the years before their tragic deaths, when they were home with their parents, safe and loved.

Since 2017, I have completed around 100 portraits. Each one of these precious little boys and girls have captured my heart, and I have fallen deeply in love with them. At the time, I had no idea why I felt the need to draw their portraits or why I was so drawn to these children. Then,about six months after I began drawing, I showed their portraits to a handful of friends who all insisted that God had a greater purpose, and I needed to keep drawing.

When I was asked the first time to exhibit them publicly, I needed a name for the exhibit. I didn’t consider them a collection, or even an art project, I simply thought of them as beloved children of God. This being the case, I decided to name them Beloved: Children of the Holocaust.

All of my artwork is now widely called “the Beloved”. With almost no effort on my part, these portraits have been recognized by the U.S. House of Representatives, been used for Holocaust Remembrances in Paris and Washington, D.C., and have been viewed by hundreds of thousands of people around the world through social media. Out of the blue, I have received calls from the White House and Canterbury Cathedral in England. I have even drawn portraits for the Anne Frank Center. Amazing, is it not?

God does indeed work in mysterious ways. He opens doors we had no idea existed. He uses talents we have no idea He has given us. I didn’t know in the beginning, and for perhaps a year, that He and I were on a sacred journey. I prayed. I sought His will. I surrendered, even though I didn’t understand at all. My heartfelt prayer was and continues to be, “Let it be done to me according to Thy will.”

As His path for me and my “babies” gently unfolded, I found that their eyes, which I always draw first, became their voice. I believe their eyes speak powerfully to the dignity of every human life. The Beloved are breaking down barriers, touching people of every age, race, creed, and political persuasion. These children are the kindest, most unrelenting of God’s messengers. Few can walk away after meeting them without pondering the value of life and our responsibility to our fellow human beings.

Having no idea what the future holds or what else God will ask of me, I will continue to draw the Beloved children. What a blessing it is to step into their world of utter peace and stillness. As I draw, I feel a strong connection to their mothers. I envision them holding their newborns, carefully examining the folds of tiny ears and the gentle curve of downy eyebrows, as their children reveal themselves to me anew on paper.

Currently, I’m working on a collection of 150 portraits, which will be named Beloved: 10,000. Camille, Michael, Max, Esther, Susanna and many others have come to join our little family. Each one precious beyond measure. It is almost inconceivable that each of their sweet faces will ultimately represent 10,000 children who died in the Holocaust.

I invite you to meet the Beloved at maryburkettart.com. Don’t be fooled by the name. I truly am not an artist. God is the artist, and I am simply a pencil in His hand.

To Him be all the glory forever.

Mary Burkett
lives in West Columbia, SC with her husband Ronny. For more information, or to contact Mary, go to maryburkettart.com or visit her Facebook page, facebook.com/maryburkettbeloved

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