In November 2010, at the Conant Center for the Performing Arts, Tony Bailey peered at an oil painting of his daughter and smiled.
Fighting back tears, he remarked, “it’s one of those things that—even though she sacrificed her life, I would not trade this moment for nothing else; …if I had to have this moment.”
Bailey, his wife, Phyllis, and daughter, Candace, came to Oglethorpe to witness the unveiling of a “hero portrait” of his daughter, U.S. Army Seargent Lakeshia Bailey. It is one of over 2500 oil paintings of fallen soldiers by a Utah native Kaziah Hancock. In 2003, Hancock founded Project Compassion, a nonprofit devoted to helping families heal by offering them handpainted oil-on-canvas likenesses of their loved ones.
Before the unveiling, Hancock shared with the audience the motivation behind her project, which is made possible with the help of five other artists, and sponsored by generous donations from around the country.
“You want to know how I’ve survived painting over 800 portraits of soldiers?… It’s because God gave his very best. And my heart is so full of gratitude for all that I have, guys. I just want to give something back.”
At a young age, Hancock lost her father and after the first Utah casualty in the Iraq war, she sought out the family of the deceased to offer her condolences and a framed portrait of their son.
“When I heard of the first soldier, I was so affected…I remember my back just raised up against the base of my couch, and there were tears streaming from my eyes. And after I began, some people would say, ‘Why gosh Kaziah—you can’t paint all of them. There’s been almost 80!’ I say: I’ll paint as many of them as I can, every year, until I get them all painted or expire trying. It’s a celebration of a life, so that their memory won’t be lost. And it’s to show people in a real form how beautiful that person was.”