Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The girl in the ruffled shirt

Recently I became interested in learning more about Jonestown. Rather randomly, at the same time, I was trying to get better at drawing people. So in retrospect it seems only natural that I should have begun a series of portraits of Jonestown victims.

My first was of Deanna Wilkinson, a Peoples Temple member who sang for the rest of the group on the evening of Nov. 17, 1978, the eve of the mass murder-suicides. When I watched the NBC footage of that evening, her vibrant performance really stood out, and I knew right away that I wanted to draw her.

On a second watching of that same footage, I noticed a girl with a brilliant smile. She's shown clapping during Rep. Leo Ryan's remarks. She looks young and perhaps a bit lost — maybe not sure why she's there. She wears a ruffled shirt, and her hair is an enormous bun on the nape of her neck. As with the singer, I knew pretty quickly that I wanted to draw her.

After doing a bit of research, I think that I may have figured out who she was — I am pretty sure she is Judy Houston, a girl who was raised in the church, along with her sister Patricia.
Judy was the second daughter of Bob and Phyllis Houston, both members of Peoples Temple. After Judy's father died, the church sent Judy and Patricia to Jonestown. They entered the settlement in August 1977.

According to the web site Alternative Considerations of Jonestown and Peoples Temple, Judy lived in Cottage 17, while her sister lived in Cottage 20. Judy's mother stayed behind in California.

Meanwhile, Judy's grandparents and her stepmother, former church member Joyce Shaw Houston, became part of a coalition that raised questions about the church. According to the book "Raven: The Untold Story of the Rev. Jim Jones and His People," Judy's grandparents' concern caught the interest of Congressman Leo Ryan — and was one of the factors that prompted his visit to Guyana. Judy's grandmother, Nadyne, and her aunt, Carol Houston Boyd, traveled with the congressman's party to the region, though of the two only Carol was able to enter Jonestown and visit with Judy.

Judy was 14 when she died. According to "Raven," she wanted to be a veterinarian.

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Copyright 2009-2010 by Sasha Sark. Please don't reuse without permission.
"West African Dark Blue Cloth" image is displayed courtesy of the Richard F. Brush Art Gallery at St. Lawrence University.