America Supports You: Artists Paint Portraits for Families of Fallen Soldiers
By Rachael Tolliver
Special to American Forces Press Service
FORT KNOX, Ky., Dec. 12, 2006 Kaziah Hancock, an artist and patriot in Manti, Utah, has put her professional life on hold as a result of channel-surfing on the radio.
Kaziah Hancock is a professional artist from Manti, Utah. She now devotes all of her work to painting portraits, for free, of U.S. military personnel killed in the Middle East. Courtesy photo
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Now, she devotes most of her time to honoring American soldiers who have died in Middle East combat zones.
"I came across a talk show, and they were talking about the accomplishments and the life of James W. Kelly, of Salt Lake (City, Utah). It hit me. … I became a basket case," she explained in a phone interview with the Fort Knox newspaper. "He was a serviceman who had been killed in Iraq."
At that moment, Hancock decided she wanted to paint a memorial portrait of each U.S. servicemember killed in the line of duty.
"At the time, we had only been in Iraq for a short while, and we had lost 80 people," she said. "We were still expecting a short war."
Hancock called a friend who owns an art gallery that regularly features her work and who had several "connections."
"I told her I wanted to do a portrait for the families of the soldiers killed, and my friend said, 'Those from Utah?' I thought for about 15 seconds," she recalled. "And I said, 'No.' Is the one from Texas any less important to me? Or the one from New York? I told her I wanted to do them all. I wanted to paint the portraits for free, and ship … all of them."
Hancock's portraits normally range in price from $3,000 to $5,000. After the American Legion did a story about her special project for its magazine, 18 more requests came in. Hancock, whose career as an artist is on hold because she has devoted all her time to this one mission, said she had $5,000 in the bank, and found herself kneeling in prayer and asking God for help.
"Then, I just kept going," she said.
"After (painting) 33 of them, I got the idea to form a non-profit (organization) and people could express their patriotism, donate to this cause, and even get a tax deduction. It's mostly the average person who has contributed to the memory of our service people."
The organization she founded is called Project Compassion, Hancock said.
Other artists contributing to the memorial effort include Ann Marie Oborn, JoAnn Musser, Lane Bradey and Clancy DaVries, all of whom volunteer their time and talent and work only for the cost of their materials.
Although she is always looking for artists who want to help, Hancock screens applicants to make sure that they will fit in as "one of the family."
DeVries is a veteran of the Korean War, where he served in the Navy. "I read about Kaziah in an issue of the American Legion magazine," he recalled. "I called her and told her I would like to try some portraits. She said she had six artists who wanted to participate and she had not heard from anyone. I told her she would hear from me.”
"(Painting the portraits) is rewarding because of the people," he said. "I familiarize myself with the soldier, go on the Web, read letters and other correspondence, so I know (the soldier) fairly well. The hardest part is letting go and sending the portrait off."
When a family accepts the organization's offer, they are asked to send a large selection of photographs and correspondence from the soldier so the artists can familiarize themselves with the soldier.
DeVries is working on his 95th portrait.
The Detimples, of Morrisville, Pa., are among the hundreds of families that have received portraits.
Their son, Army Pfc. Nathaniel Detimple, was an infantryman with the 28th Infantry Division, of the Pennsylvania National Guard. He was one of three soldiers killed Aug. 9, 2005, when the Humvee in which they were riding ran over an improvised explosive device.
"About six months later, February or so, we got a letter from Ms. Hancock explaining the portrait and what to do if we wanted one," said Kim Detimple, Nathaniel's mother. "Our Nat was 19. He joined the National Guard while he was still in high school. Staten (Nat's younger brother) did the same thing and joined in his junior year of high school. We just came back from Fort Knox where Staten just graduated from school. He is in the cavalry."
Kim said, and Glen, Nat's father, agreed, that Hancock's portrait, "caught him. She captured him -- his smile and his facial expressions."
"The most important thing (in the portrait) is that she captured my son," Kim continued. "She is a humble person, and that is what struck me. She remembers all of the families, not just our Nat, but all our sons."
Hancock said she thinks of these paintings as hugs. When she dies, she said, there will be pieces of her heart spread out all across the globe. "That says Kaziah cared about these soldiers," she said.
"I think about all I have lost (and how I felt), and I think of those mothers who have lost their sons and daughters," she said. "We have sent the best blood we have in our name. If art is good, it should do some good."
(Rachael Tolliver writes for the Fort Knox Turret.)