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Woman draws from painful loss as she captures faces of opioid addiction

Woman draws from painful loss as she captures faces of opioid addiction
Devin (exhibition drawing){ }(Image credit: Theresa Clower)

With a graphite pencil in hand, Theresa Clower is face to face with a painful dilemma.

"It makes people stop," she explained, drawing a portrait of Timothy Willet.

The Sanford man died on New Year's Day 2019 at the age of 32. He's among the casualties of the opioid epidemic that's now overshadowed by COVID-19.

"Visiting, or getting to know, or just looking through the eyes and understanding what is behind the eyes there," Clower said after spending nearly 10 hours drawing Willet's face. "I'll probably submit it to the family as soon as you leave."

Clower, the News 13 Person of the Week, keeps the focus on their faces with a series called "Into Light."

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"I have such a deep compassion for their situation," she said, showing other faces she's captured. "This is Vanessa, and that's Timothy."

The pieces will be displayed at an exhibit in Asheville this fall aimed at removing the stigma of opioid addiction.

"Because we're putting a human face on this epidemic, it has a lot of power," she said.

"Into Light" is underwritten by Dogwood Health Trust.

Clower's looking for more submissions to add to her exhibit. In particular, she'd like to draw more people of color to show the opioid crisis doesn't discriminate.

"So, this is the very first portrait," she said, showing a drawing of her late son Devin. "It definitely brought on a lot."

Two years ago, the 32-year-old died of a fentanyl overdose.

Clower hopes people will get to know much more what lead to his demise by looking into his eyes and looking beyond his darkest moments.

"We called him our exclamation point," Clower said. "He was very tall, very gregarious."

After Devin's death, Clower found solace by picking up a pencil.

"That first portrait was cathartic. It propelled me into this project," she said.

"Into Light" is her ambitious effort to draw 41 faces for exhibits in every state over the next 10 years. That will include more than 2,000 people who died after becoming addicted to opioids.

After each exhibition, Clower presents the portraits to the families.

The artistic process is part of her grieving process.

"I don't think I'll ever get past mourning," Clower said. "But mourning gives you hope. There's hope at the end, and there's a purpose, if you will."

Clower documents faces and stories that often remind her of Devin.

She has learned you can't erase the pain of losing a loved one, but, with something as simple as a pencil, she draws from that experience to shed light on addiction in America.

"So, I consider this whole phase in my life a gift from Devin. I really do," Clower said.

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