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Mother’s paintings of people lost to addiction catching more attention

  • Anne Marie Zafagna’s portraits of people lost to drug addiction were on display in a Senate office building in Washington, D.C., this week. She was invited to display her work by New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen. Courtesy

  • Anne Marie Zafagna’s portraits of people lost to drug addiction have gained national attention. They were on display in a Senate office building in Washington, D.C., this week. Courtesy

  • Artist Anne Marie Zafagna hugs Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, who invited Zafagna and her husband to Washington, D.C., to display her portraits of people lost to the opioid epidemic. Courtesy

  • Anne Marie Zafagna’s portraits of people lost to drug addiction have gained national attention. They were on display in a Senate office building in Washington, D.C., this week. Courtesy

Monitor staff
Published: 10/12/2018 6:08:42 PM

Anne Marie Zanfagna has been an artist for her entire life. But when she lost her daughter, Jacqueline, to a heroin overdose in 2014, her work became more personal.

She stopped painting landscapes and objects and turned to portraits. The first portrait was of her daughter, an act which Zanfagna said helped her cope with the unbearable grief the loss.

Now, nearly four years later, Zanfagna has used her paintbrush to help other families going through a similar experience. She has done more than 150 portraits, and about 130 of them were on display at the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C., this week.

“It is a work of love,” she said. “I know how people feel when they receive these, and that warms my heart. If I can do something to help someone else, I’ll do it. It’s my way of giving back.”

The work has caught the attention of lawmakers in the building, something U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen hoped would happen when she invited the Zafagna to display her work.

“Each of these portraits tells a story, and the Angels of Addictions exhibit reminds us who we are fighting for as Congress takes steps to address this crisis,” Shaheen said. “I appreciate that members on both sides of the aisle are taking the time to come see these portraits and hear about the Zanfagnas’ efforts.”

As Zafagna’s work began circulating and gaining notice, the requests started piling up, and it has become full-time work. She’s already received at least one new request when someone reached her by phone while in D.C.

Zafagna spends about 12 to 15 hours on each portrait. A photo is provided by the family and then put through a computer program where Zafagna can experiment with colors in the posterized image before drawing and painting it herself.

Zafagna and her husband set up a non-profit around her work called Angels of Addiction. She never charges for portraits and relies on donations to pay for materials.

The oil paintings have toured around the state with exhibits in town halls, libraries, and a few recovery centers. Her paintings gained national attention from an NPR feature story in 2015.

“I never thought that my paintings would get this much recognition,” Zafagna said. “My feelings about the loss of Jackie, that still plays into every portrait I paint.”

The number of drug-related deaths continues to climb in New Hampshire, as well as other parts of the country.

In 2017, 488 people were lost to drug overdose, according to the New Hampshire office of the chief medical examiner. Of those, 442 were deemed accidental, and 433 were caused by opioids. 

While the numbers are staggering, part of the reason behind Zafagna’s work is to illustrate the real people behind those numbers.

“You hear the numbers and you know it is a lot, but when you try to translate that into lives, it’s different,” she said. “When you see these faces you will cry because we’ve lost all of these people.”

Being able to see those faces is what makes the work so powerful, Shaheen said.

“The scale of this epidemic is staggering but numbers don’t tell the whole story,” Shaheen said. “Families like the Zanfagnas who have lost loved ones and are bravely sharing their stories are increasing awareness and helping to destigmatize substance use disorders.”

Zanfagna has about a year’s worth of work ahead of her. Any requests coming in now won’t get done for at least 12 months, but she still invites people to reach out at anne@angelsofaddiction.org.

“I think the people in my exhibit need this recognition because they were all good people,” she said. “Something tragic happened and now they are gone. We have to take care of our people in this country, and it starts with trying to make sense of this.”

 

(Nick Stoico can be reached at 369-3321 or nstoico@cmonitor.com.)


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