Soulful portraits

Sandy Dukat, who lost her leg at age 4 due to a congenital disability, is now a two-time Paralympic bronze medalist in skiing, a mother and activist living in Denver. She recently climbed a volcano in Ecuador to raise awareness for amputees. She is pictured at age 24 in black & white and again two decades later.  Dukat is one of the inspiring portraits featured in Cathy Lander-Goldberg’s Resilient Souls Project, which opens Nov 17 at Maryville University.

By Ellie S. Grossman, Special to the Jewish Light

If a picture says a thousand words, then Cathy Lander-Goldberg’s photographs speak volumes. 

“The Resilient Souls Project,” her powerful exhibit of portraits and writing at Maryville University, follows a group of diverse women over the course of two decades, celebrating their strength and beauty of spirit as they persevere over life’s challenges from their teens and 20s into middle age. The exhibit presents an inspirational collection of older black and white portraits and current color images accompanied by text. 

The combination of photos and the women’s own words  reflect each subject’s struggles and triumphs as they navigate their lives. They bravely share their stories of  dealing with disabilities, unhealthy relationships, illness, adoption, pregnancy, immigration, mental health issues, school problems, violence and grief.   

For example, Sandy, who lost her leg at age 4 due to a congenital disorder is now a two-time Paralympic bronze medalist in skiing, a mother and activist. She recently climbed a volcano in Ecuador to raise awareness for amputees.  

Roeshelle, who failed the fourth grade, went on to pursue her master’s degree in social work. At 39, she uses her social work background to run her business, which helps low income families rent and purchase homes. 

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Nani was a gang member and drug user in high school. At 37, she recently became the first in her family to graduate from college. She holds two jobs while playing in a professional female football team in Chicago.

“Resilience is defined as the ability to become strong, healthy, or successful after something bad happens,” said Lander-Goldberg, who combines her talents as a photographer and her background as a clinical social worker in this ongoing project. “This photo exhibit explores why some people appear more resilient than others. 

“The research shows that although there are protective factors that foster resilience, we all have the ability to build more resilience in each of our lives.” 

Lander-Goldberg, who is married and has a 16-year-old daughter, graduated in 1985 from the University of Missouri School of Journalism and in 2003 earned a master’s degree in social work from Washington University. 

In the early ’90s, she used her skills to teach photography and writing to at-risk teens in St. Louis.  

“Some of them were wise beyond their years from dealing with so much at an early age,” Lander-Goldberg said. “I wanted to give them a voice to advise and inspire others who may be going through similar challenges. I began with asking a few former students if they would like to participate and, from there, found diverse subjects in a variety of places.” 

The stories come from “Resilient Souls: Young Women’s Portraits and Words,” a Lander-Goldberg exhibit that opened in 1996 in St. Louis and traveled around the United States during the late 1990s. 

“For many years, I had remembered the stories and photos of the women in their teens and 20s,” Lander-Goldberg said. “Though I logically knew they were now grownups, it was mind-boggling to see them two decades later with careers, and some as mothers and grandmothers. 

“What shocked me was searching Google and sadly finding the obituaries of two of these beautiful, amazing women who had both dealt with serious health issues.” 

The exhibition concludes with a self-portrait backdrop for viewers to use to create and share their own stories on social media. 

Lander-Goldberg also facilitates art/creative writing workshops and is the author of the 2015 book “Photo Explorations: A Girl’s Guide to Self-Discovery Through Photography, Writing and Drawing.”  

The exhibition is a collaboration with Maryville University’s Office of Personal Counseling, the Morton J. May Foundation Gallery, the Women’s Leadership Program, the Office of Student Life, the Center for Sustainability, the John E. Simon School of Business, and Maryville Talks Women and Leadership. 

 “Sometimes we go through dark periods where things feel like they will never get better,” said Jennifer Henry, Maryvilles’ director of personal counseling. “This show illustrates the power of resiliency and hope.”

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