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Dear readers and tea lovers everywhere,

Welcome to our regular feature

 ‘Afternoon tea with …. people of note.’

Today we are having tea (virtually!) with Gerda Neubacher, an artist whose book, Portraits of Canadian Women Who Inspire, is an elegant coffee table book of paintings and personal essays, which could also be required reading in any Women’s Studies course.

Gerda Neubacher

Gerda Neubacher

Gerda is a painter of renown with international exhibits to her credit and artworks gracing the walls of major corporations and private collections. Born In Austria and now residing north of Toronto, Canada, Gerda studied art and design in Switzerland, specializing in fashion design. It is this intense knowledge and experience of drawing and dressing the female form that gives this book its artistic merit and visual satisfaction.

The pot of Buckingham Palace Garden Party tea– a subtle blend of black teas from Kenya, Sri Lanka and China with a hint of jasmine and lemon – has steeped and Her Ladyship (that would be me!) is pouring two cups. Would our guest like milk and sugar? “Just a touch of milk, no sugar, thanks.


Portraits of Canadian Women who Inspire, a collaboration between Gerda Neubacher and 100 women

Portraits of Canadian Women Who Inspire, a collaboration between Gerda Neubacher and 100 women

Portraits is a big book – you paint 100 women with very definite ideas on how she should be painted, and of course the amount of time.
Yes! Portraits was a 10-year project. And worth every minute! I committed to paint each woman from her perspective – how the sitter perceives herself, rather than how I, the artist, perceive the sitter. Getting to know how each unique person perceives herself was a long and pleasant journey.

Where did the idea to paint each woman viewed from her perception of herself come from?
This project began very innocently and turned into one of my most challenging and rewarding life experiences. The project began with two very innocent words: “What if?”  I was at a dinner party and a woman told she had her portrait painted several times and didn’t like a single one. I was intrigued. I thought to myself what if I asked this lady how she’d paint herself and let her guide my brush?

Wow! You certainly took a risk, undertaking to paint 100 women based on this concept of empowering the subject to guide the artist.
Like I said, I was intrigued and I wanted to see what would come from the dialogue between the subject and me.  Also, I wanted to see if could give up control. And I wanted to push my talent as far as I could. So a process evolved.

Louise Arbour

Louise Arbour, Former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, former Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada and Ontario Court of Appeal, former Chief Prosecutor for the Genocide Trials in Rawanda and Yugoslavia

What was the process?
I started each sitting with a taped, intimate interview à deux – just the subject, my video camera and me. The goal was to talk and talk and talk. I asked probing and lighthearted questions but there was no doubt the subject was in control. The women opened up and shared stories about their lives, hopes and dreams, their families, their struggles and their successes. I studied what I heard and what I saw on the tapes. Then I started to paint and to talk some more with the women.

How were the women chosen for your book?
I approached friends, or women I knew because of their professional prominence or because I thought a woman was simply fascinating.

This book is more than a ‘pretty face’ – because each woman wrote an essay about herself to accompany your portrait.
Yes, I wanted a personal essay written in the woman’s own words – each woman sharing something about herself to complete her portrait and what you will find is a selection of inspiring writing, self-revealing anecdotes, poetry, odes to mothers, lovers and to special dresses.

I agree that each woman has a compelling story to tell and her own style of telling the story – from personal and revealing to whimsical and playful, but all the essays rivet your attention. If you’ll allow me, I would like to quote briefly from one of the essays.
Yes of course.
Kathleen Sendall, a mechanical engineer, a former senior vice-president for North American Natural Gas at Petro Canada and currently Chair or Vice-chair of numerous energy-related boards says,
“No one told me girls weren’t supposed to be engineers …
“I want to be recognized as fluent in ‘male as a second language’ ….
“I also want to be a leader who is known for having a sense of style and really nice shoes.”

Portraits of Canadian Women who Inspire project is over, what are you working on?
Trying to get back to the rhythm of sitting in my studio, reflecting gratefully.

Besides painting, what are your other passions?
I am a new gardener and I lavish a lot of attention on my herbs.

What are life’s little annoyances for you?
Well I don’t know if this is little or not, but arrogance is a bad thing.

Do you think there will be Portraits of Men who Inspire?
Not sure.

When the day’s done, how do you relax?
Listening to Beethoven for sure.

What’s your wildest dream?
Climb Mount Everest. Wow, talk about a challenge!

Another cup of tea, Gerda.

Of course!

Portraits of Canadian Women Who Inspire, 2013, by Gerda Neubacher
Published by Pioneer House Publishing, Toronto
$80.00 CDN$

Gerda Neubacher Facebook

To order:



Gerda Neubacher <gneubacher@sympatico.ca>