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‘Coolest thing ever’: Subject of 1989 portrait located thanks to story

Debbie Hreljac was 28 years old when she posed for Sudbury artist Ingrid Udeschini 

It’s partially thanks to a story that a local artist was able to find the model in two pastel portraits she created back in 1989.

As she downsized her belongings, Ingrid Udeschini thought it was time to give the framed pieces of art to the woman named Debbie who sat for the portraits more than three decades ago. The trouble was that she didn’t remember the woman’s full name.

Udeschini’s niece, Lisa Vaillancourt, posted the query on Facebook, and after the post received thousands of shares, picked up on the story.

It just so happened that a friend of Emily Hreljac’s read the Jan. 6 story, and asked her if the woman in the portraits was her mom, Debbie Hreljac. “I was like ‘That’s totally my mom’,” said Emily. “I knew right away when I saw the pictures.” was on hand Sunday morning when Udeschini and Vaillancourt visited the Hreljacs’ home to give them the portraits (everyone was masked and socially distant).

Debbie Hreljac said she was 28 years old when she was asked to pose for a portraiture class taught by Udeschini at Cambrian College in 1989.

Because Udeschini liked the model, she asked her to come to her studio for a more extensive sitting, and she created the two portraits. Debbie Hreljac’s mother worked at Cambrian College, which is how she connected up with Udeschini.

Debbie said she actually still has the two photographic portraits taken by Udeschini as she created the art, although she’s not sure exactly where they are.

She was thrilled to receive the two pieces of art. One of them will be hung by Debbie and her husband in their home. The other will go to her daughter Emily, who, at age 23, is just a bit younger than Debbie was when she sat for the portraits. 

“I just want to thank Ingrid,” said Debbie, adding she’s also thankful for those who aided in reconnecting her with the artist.

Udeschini said the two portraits were among the art pieces that she exhibited over the years. She never sold them because it was always her intention to give them to Debbie one day.

The artist said as soon as she saw pictures of Debbie on Facebook as she looks now, she knew it was definitely the right person, even after the passage of 32 years. “You could see by the facial features that it was the right girl,” Udeschini said.

She said she thinks it’s “super” the way the right Debbie was swiftly found thanks to social media. 

By the way, Udeschini doesn’t use Facebook, and neither does Debbie Hreljac, for that matter — the reunion was orchestrated by younger generations of the two families.

“It’s great, it’s super,” Udeschini said. “I absolutely appreciate it. I’m just watching it. I’m not on Facebook — I don’t want to be — but I do see what is going on. I was happy to see that they found her.

“I’m just very happy that the daughter is also happy to have them (the portraits). I’m pleased that it ended that way.”

Emily Hreljac said she thinks this is the “coolest thing ever.”

“My mom, she doesn’t use Facebook,” she said. “She doesn’t even know what that stuff really is. I thought it was really cool. I still don’t think she really understands how many people have seen it. It’s a pretty cool story for sure.”