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Dunedin artist Kezia Field has started creating a book based on her late husband's letter. Photo/Supplied.

A Dunedin artist pays tribute to her husband she lost to suicide

Dunedin artist Kezia Field is hoping to publish an illustrated book to share the words of her late husband.

Three months after her husband of 18 years died by suicide, Dunedin artist Kezia Field found a letter addressed to her on his computer. She remembers shaking as she clicked on the folder, simply marked “Kezia”.

“You taught me that love doesn’t have to come with a price,” he’d written, thanking her for her strength and grace. “You show me daily that life should be captured and not feared. That a child’s life is more important than childhood traumas...”

A fellow artist and school teacher, Hunia Dean had suffered from depression for much of his life. For Field, finding the letter not only gave her an incredible amount of comfort but also reassurance.

“When you’re helping someone with depression, there’s only so much the person who loves them can do,” says Field, who encourages anyone struggling with mental health to seek professional help.

“Hunia was an exceptional man with some real problems. He had an incredible rapport [with his students]. He knew how to express himself emotionally and the way he saw the world was very perceptive. But when he got dark... there were two sides.”

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The more Field read Dean’s letter, the more it resonated with her – and she decided his words needed to be shared. With the support of their 15-year-daughter, she plans to incorporate the letter into an illustrated book with 13 original artworks inspired by its imagery.

Over the past two years, Field has been using undecorated Russian nesting dolls as a canvas for her art, painting everything from flowers and plants to pop stars and vintage icons. (She gave Jacinda Ardern a personalised set during the 2017 election campaign and spotted them during a media interview filmed at the Prime Minister’s home last year, on display in her lounge.)

For her book, Field has painted a set of three Russian dolls with flowers and plants to represent herself, Dean and her daughter, and is now weaving them into her illustrations. Her doll is decorated with cyclamens, while Dean is symbolised by kowhai, his favourite flower – her opening illustrations show the yellow blossoms weeping.

A Boosted campaign to help fund the project was launched last week, and part of the proceeds from the book’s sales will be donated to Life Matters, a suicide prevention trust.

“I needed a new direction and I needed to do something that would heal,” says Field, “I think it’s healing for people to see that letter.”

Do you or someone you know need mental health support? Find contacts here