America Supports You: Project Embodies Art of Compassion
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jul. 23, 2007 Portraits created by “Project Compassion” capture so much -- the twinkle in an eye, the smallest hint of a smile, the evident pride of a newly minted Marine, everything good families remember about loved ones killed fighting the war on terrorism.
Oil-on-canvas portraits like this one of Marine Lance Cpl. Fernando S. Tamayo are Project Compassion's way of giving back to families who have paid the ultimate price when they lost daughter servicemember in the line of duty. Six artists, led by the group's founder, Kaziah M. Hancock, have completed more than 600 portraits of fallen servicemembers since Project Compassion was founded in 2004. Photo courtesy of Project Compassion
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Project Compassion’s sole mission is providing an “heirloom legacy of courage” to families of fallen servicemembers. That heirloom comes in the form of an 18-by-24-inch gallery-quality oil-on-canvas portrait of any servicemember who has died in the global war on terrorism.
Kaziah M. Hancock, the organization’s founder, set out on this mission in 2003. Since then, five artists have joined her in her efforts, but the process is still the same. The portraits, painted from photos, are presented to servicemembers’ families at no cost to the families.
“We remain determined that these oil paintings of a fallen soldier will never cost the family a dime,” Hancock said in a letter on the group’s Web site. “They have paid the ultimate high price.”
Project Compassion is a member of America Supports You, a Defense Department program connecting citizens and corporations with military personnel and their families serving at home and abroad.
To Hancock, the portraits represent “a simple act of kindness from one human being to another.”
She said she hopes the paintings make the high emotional cost of losing a loved one a little more bearable for the families.
A letter from one mother is posted on the group’s Web site: “When I brought Darron’s painting home, it really helped me feel better. You really captured the light in his eyes!” the mother wrote. “Just looking at it reminds me of his zest for life! I miss him sooooo much! But the painting helped so much. You made my heart glad!”
The James R. Greenbaum Jr. Family Foundation has funded the group’s efforts to date. “The foundation funds the material expenses of paint, canvas, framing and shipping of completed paintings to (the primary next of kin),” Marie Woolf, the project’s executive director, said.
The overwhelming success of the program, however, is dictating the need for additional sources of funding. Hancock, with the help of five other artists who sought to participate in the project, has completed more than 600 portraits so far.
In May 2005, with the help of Sen. Orrin Hatch, the Utah-based program established official partnerships with the military services.
“Except for the Army, all of the services now include Project Compassion information, including our invitation to contact us, with standard paperwork personally delivered by casualty officers” to families of servicemembers killed in the war on terror, Woolf said.
The Army does things a little differently. Project Compassion is allowed to send monthly mailings to the families of fallen soldiers who agreed to allow third parties to contact them.
Families who have lost a servicemember, regardless of the cause, since Sept. 11, are eligible to receive a portrait. Those interested can contact Project Compassion via the group’s Web site, www.heropaintings.com.
Hancock, an award-winning artist, and those bolstering her efforts, often work on 10 to 25 canvases at a time, but they have dedicated themselves to completing each request they receive.
“No one had ever expected the amount of causalities,” Hancock said her letter to Project Compassion’s Web site visitors. “(However) we remain committed to continue this project, (so) that for generations to come the world will know the beautiful people that have been sacrificed for all that we have.”