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Mother ‘honors the human side’ of those lost to addiction through art exhibit

<i>KJRH via CNN Newsource</i><br/>When Theresa Clower lost her son
Willingham, James
KJRH via CNN Newsource
When Theresa Clower lost her son

By Stef Manchen

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    TULSA (KJRH) — When Theresa Clower lost her son, Devin, she turned to an old hobby she hadn’t picked up in nearly five decades.

With a degree in fine arts, she picked up a pencil and paper and began sketching her precious boy.

Devin died of a fentanyl overdose in Baltimore in 2018. He was 32.

Never having done portrait work before, she wasn’t sure where it would lead her. Looking back now, she said she thinks it was Devin’s way of helping her through her grief.

Clower started drawing everyone, but it wasn’t quite what she was looking to do with her newfound drive to put faces onto paper.

“The idea of doing portraits of people who died like Devin from drug addiction was how it began,” she said. “Devin is always with me because I speak his name, I see his portrait, I’m pushing and I do believe this was a gift from him after he died.”

Clower decided to pick up the phone and started calling people all over the city of Baltimore, looking for more people to honor with a drawing.

It’s now been five years full of thousands of sketches. Into Light’s exhibit has been in 11 states, Oklahoma will be the 12th.

“We create a series of 41 in each exhibition of people from that state,” said Clower. “As a result, we have a whole gathering of wonderful, wonderful people who believe in the cause, our goal is to erase the stigma of drug addiction, change the conversation, to show the human side of our loved ones.”

After a family submits their loved one to be included in Into Light’s exhibit, professional writers put the person’s life into words and artists like Shawn Faust bring those words to life.

Faust said joining the Into Light team felt like a higher calling. He said he had always looked for a greater purpose to use his artistic abilities and feels it’s no coincidence he found the job when he did.

“I know that that portrait is going to outlive all of that, and that is how I want these individuals.. they were real people, they have real stories, and I want that to be remembered and that to continue that conversation about these people when they see the portrait.”

Clower’s goal is to bring the Into Light project to every state because as she said, the disease of addiction is everywhere.

“We’re not only having a beautiful exhibit with the narratives, we use it as a catalyst for educating people about addiction,” said Clower. “Changing the language about it, doing prevention training and things of that sort.”

The non-profit is in talks with 19 states as of now, Clower said and expects it to take another 5 to 6 years to make it to every state.

While it’s a busy retirement for Clower, it’s her journey towards peace.

“Its making a change, and so what more could I ask for?” she said.

As she takes the loss of Devin and tries to encourage change for the future.

“Do I still grieve? Of course, I do and because I feel like I’m able to contribute in some small way to this huge epidemic, the sharpness of that grief is rounded, it’s easier.”

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