BALTIMORE — Theresa Clower never met most of the people featured in the portraits that hang in the Gormley Gallery at Notre Dame of Maryland University.
But she knows each and every one of their stories.
"Mariah, she was an only child and very accomplished," Clower said while looking at one portrait.
"This young man Patrick, he was very young when he died," she said pointing to another. "I think he might have only been 21."
Each portrait that hangs in the gallery is a person who died from a drug addiction. The only one Clower met is Devin, her son.
"Devin was a really funny, gregarious fellow. He was always the one who came into the party and had something to make people laugh," she said.
Devin died of a drug overdose in February of 2018, shortly after his 32nd birthday. Clower says he lived with the addiction for 10 years and was doing well right before he died. To process her grief, she picked up a pencil and drew his portrait.
"I really labored over that and just studied every little nuance of his face. I was really feeling like I was visiting with him," she said.
"At the end of that, it was incredibly powerful, the floodgates just opened."
Devin's portrait inspired Clower to find others who lived and died like her son and draw their portraits. She calls her project "Into Light".
"Defining them as all shades of gray and light and dark. That's what we all are," she said.
She reached out to Notre Dame about displaying the portraits in their gallery. Dr. Jennifer Wester, the director of Gormley Gallery, said it was a quick decision to say yes.
"I thought bringing in an exhibition that would be so powerful and personal, but also about an issue that is so universal, would be a really great way to get the students, faculty, staff and broader community into a conversation about these issues and to take action," Wester said.
It would be easy to feel sad while walking through the gallery and reading the stories of each person who died after battling drug addiction, but Clower doesn't want visitors to feel sadness. She hopes they'll be empowered, engaged and appreciate the light that comes from within each portrait.
"Yes they had a dark side, they had a struggle side but they also had a lot of beauty in them. I hope people can come away from this feeling some of that beauty."
Notre Dame will be hosting an opening reception on November 2 from 4:00-6:00 p.m. at the gallery. There will also be a panel discussion about the opioid crisis on November 13 and a Naloxone training on November 20. "Into Light" runs until November 22. For more information about the exhibit, click here.