We’re all hungry for some peace, calm and normalcy.

The recent announcement of the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize rang true to regional artist Cecile Houel, who is passionate about diversity and justice.

A bust of Nobel Prize founder Alfred Nobel (1833-1896).

Her portraits of Nobel Peace Prize laureates have been extended at the Beréskin Art Gallery & Academy, 2967 State St., Bettendorf, through the end of the month. She will offer a free tour of her exhibit Friday, Oct. 23 at 2 p.m.

Houel – who is based in Fort Madison, Iowa – will speak about her work on this collection, covering the following topics: Alfred Nobel and the Nobel Society, researches and inspiration, preliminary studies, technical challenges and beyond technique — the ethic of self-reflecting.

“I have a deep compassion for diversity,” she said, noting her goal is to create peace events where she can display all of her works.

The Nobel Peace Prize for 2020 was awarded to the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) for its efforts to combat hunger, its contribution to bettering conditions for peace in conflict-affected areas and for acting as a driving force in efforts to prevent the use of hunger as a weapon of war and conflict.

The WFP is the world’s largest humanitarian organization addressing hunger and promoting food security. In 2019, it provided assistance to close to 100 million people in 88 countries.

The artist with her portrait of Mother Teresa (1910-97), who won the prize in 1979.

Houel said she has no plans yet to illustrate the new 2020 Nobel Peace Prize award, “although it is an important laureate. What is more essential than to provide food for the population in need, deprived from the most basic needs?”

“To imagine that it can be instrumental in wartime is atrocious,” she said noting she plans to paint the WFP as very symbolic.

“The center and focus of my artwork in the years to come will remain my Nobel Peace Prize Collection, although I will sometimes allow my creativity to express in different subjects and mediums,” Houel said. “Creativity can’t be restrained when organic inspiration comes. It will probably take at least eight more years to achieve my goal of the laureates’ portraits.”

Houel began her project about five years ago and plans to do portraits of all 107 Nobel Peace laureates. Working from her studio in Fort Madison — a two-minute walk from the Mississippi River – she completes 10 of the intensely personal 4-foot by 4-foot portraits each year.

Included in the display at Beréskin Gallery are portraits of Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr., Elie Wiesel and Barack Obama, among others. Other examples of Houel’s work can be seen at her website, https://www.cecilehouel.com.

This month, the World Food Programme earned the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize.

Gallery owner Pat Bereskin sees the Houel exhibition as an opportunity for the community to become acquainted with the works of these amazing people.

“Together we have a body of work that tells the history and importance of working for peace, through the lives and brushstrokes of Cecile Houel,” she said.

The artist said of her Oct. 23 tour: “A chance to hear an artist describe his work is for me fascinating. So I will share much information from my thought process to the final touches of the painting.

“It takes many steps from research, preliminary studies, building the stretchers, canvas to start using to delight my brushes… generally a month altogether,” Houel said. “I will also talk about the Nobel Society and its founder, Alfred Nobel. And finally, engage a conversation about the purpose of celebrating the Nobel laureates, to reflect on our philosophy of life, our realization that we are not separated from all what is but on the contrary a link in the diversity chain.”

According to the Nobel Peace Prize Oct. 9 release, this year the Norwegian Nobel Committee “wishes to turn the eyes of the world towards the millions of people who suffer from or face the threat of hunger.”

The World Food Programme plays “a key role in multilateral cooperation on making food security an instrument of peace, and has made a strong contribution towards mobilising UN Member States to combat the use of hunger as a weapon of war and conflict,” the committee said,

The logo for the UN World Food Programme.

noting WFP contributes daily to advancing the fraternity of nations referred to in Alfred Nobel’s will.

“As the UN’s largest specialised agency, the World Food Programme is a modern version of the peace congresses that the Nobel Peace Prize is intended to promote,” the release said.

Nobel (1833-1896) – who invented dynamite and held 355 patents — was an inventor, entrepreneur, scientist and businessman who also wrote poetry and drama. His varied interests are reflected in the prize he established and which he lay the foundation for in 1895, when he wrote his last will, leaving much of his wealth to the establishment of the prize.

Since 1901, the Nobel Prize has been honoring men and women from around the world for outstanding achievements in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature and for work in peace.

1989 Nobel winner The Dalai Lama, painted by Cecile Houel.

Born to a Catholic father and a Muslim mother, Houel said she witnessed discrimination while growing up in the Middle East – in Morocco, Tunisia and Iran (she’s half Tunisian), and lived in downtown Paris for 25 years. Since she was 8, Houel said she was called to be an artist. She originally was a musician, studying classical guitar at the National Conservatory of Paris.

Houel has painted for 36 years, always specializing in portraits.

Several Quad-Cities community arts organizations are united in celebrating the accomplishments of women in the arts, sciences and more in unique exhibitions – including Quad City Arts, German American Heritage Museum & Center, and the River Center’s Adler Theatre.

At Bereskin Gallery, Houel has displayed 18 studies and 10 full paintings. The Quad City Arts Art @ the Airport (Quad City International Airport, Moline) gallery features six women laureates by Houel — Malala Yousafzai (2014), Nadia Murad (2018), Jane Addams (1931), Leymah Gbowee (2011), Shirin Ebadi (2003), and Rigoberta Menchú (1992).

A downloadable “Passport for Peace” at https://www.bereskinartgallery.com/nobel-peace-prize-collection) lists the biographies and locations of each Nobel Peace Prize laureate painted by Houel.

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Jonathan Turner has been covering the Quad-Cities arts scene for 25 years, first as a reporter with the Dispatch and Rock Island Argus, and then as a reporter with the Quad City Times. Jonathan is also an accomplished actor and musician who has been seen frequently on local theater stages, including the Bucktown Revue and Black Box Theatre.