Nadine Bernard Westcott

Nadine Bernard Westcott
Mother of artist, Rebecca Westcott

June 2004, Nantucket, MA

My phone rang.

“Hi Mommy, are you sitting down?” Becky said, giggling.

“Yeah,” I said slowly.

“I think I won the Pew!”

“What?! Are you kidding?” We both screamed and laughed so hard that our stomachs hurt.

She read me the letter she had just received congratulating her receiving a Pew Fellowship in the Arts grant of $50,000 for her distinguished work as a contemporary portrait painter. She had no expectation of winning. I knew how prestigious the award was in the Philadelphia area, and playing the protective mother, I actually suggested she call someone to verify the letter. When she called back moments later confirming the good news, we got to scream and yell and laugh all over again.

I still laugh every time I think of it. It will always be one of the most special moments of my life.

The Pew was the culmination of Becky’s happy life in Philadelphia. She loved her friends, her Philly family, her dogs, and especially her husband, Jim Houser, and the home they created together. The grant money would give her significant financial support, but what mattered most to Becky was the validation of her work by the Philadelphia art community. For four months, she approached her painting with new confidence. I saw self-assurance in her demeanor that wasn’t there before.

Unfortunately, Becky did not even live long enough to attend the awards ceremony. She was killed that October by a car driven by a man with a history of drunk driving. It is consoling to me, though, that before Becky died she had the knowledge that she had won the Pew. I am so grateful that she had that time to know that she had been recognized for her extraordinary talent.

The reasons that Becky loved Philadelphia are now my reasons too: her friends, her Philly family, her dogs, and mostly her husband, Jim. I can say to him, “Hey, remember the day that Becky won the Pew?” And he can laugh with me and we’ll be happy, because we always knew how special she was.

In memory of Rebecca Westcott 1976-2004

Rebecca Westcott
National Portrait Gallery