Shootings take place daily in the United States. We seem to accept them as a general public. Certainly we’re outraged when we hear the victims are children and young adults under 21. Then time passes. Can we remember the individual names of those children? Can we recall their faces?
I couldn’t. And then I suffered a personal loss to gun violence, A dear friend, Fr. Lorenzo Rosebaugh, OMI, was gunned down. His life had been devoted to the resistance of violence and injustice. He had just officiated at the funerals of two teen victims of gun violence. Thirty years earlier, I had lost my father to suicide by gun. All of my planned artwork at that time came to a halt.
I began the “Faces Project,” painting the portraits of children, 20 and under, who have died as the result of gun violence. An artist friend, Jane Linders, got us organized as I was becoming overwhelmed by the numbers of local victims. Other passionate artists joined us. We formed a board and thanks in part to receiving the 2013 Critical Mass Creative Stimulus grant and the devotion of these artists, we continue to put a Face to the youngest victims of gun violence.
Bill Burton, a young Black artist, gave us a new logo to go with a new name “Faces Not Forgotten,” which speaks more directly to the wishes of the families: that their children not be forgotten.
We paint a portrait, the “Face” of each child, which is then donated to the family. A .jpg image of the original portrait is graphically superimposed over an image of a vintage handkerchief by Andrew Dobson and printed on 16″x20″ canvas panels with grommets in the corners to create the “Faces.” These are tied together with black ribbon in sets of nine – eight portraits for the eight children that die each day from gun violence and one logo, to create our Faces Not Forgotten quilts.
In St. Louis, we tie Ribbons of Hope from the Ferguson movement to the top. We work with the St. Louis Crime Victim’s Advocacy (CVA) center to respectfully contact victims’ families for their permission to use these portraits in the fight against gun violence. We have exhibited them at The Vaughn Cultural Center, the Central Reform Congregation, the Foundry, the Univ. of MO-STL , Blackburn College, Soulard Art Market, the Maryland Heights Community Center, The Regional Arts Center, Christ Church Cathedral and have numerous future exhibits planned.
In October 2019, the Faces Not Forgotten project was exhibited at the Brady National Summit in Washington, D.C. We have since partnered with The Brady Campaign and the Gun Violence Prevention Movement to do portraits across the country of young gun violence victims. We hope to return to D.C. with 100 plus Faces Not Forgotten quilts, showing the country the very young Faces of gun violence.
Jessica Meyers, director of CVA, said that one thing families say over and over is that they are afraid that their child will be forgotten. The Faces Not Forgotten Project attempts to keep their memory alive and to offer some small comfort and support to the families.
These children are not just numbers or statistics. Each one of them was a life ended. Each one has a face.
– Christine Ilewski, founder and executive director
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