Black Mountain mother Theresa Clower uses art to heal in Into Light project
When Theresa Clower lost her son to a drug overdose in 2018, she needed to find a way forward.
“As a way of processing that deep pain and grief, I took up portrait drawing,” Clower said. “That first drawing was incredibly powerful for me, and as a result of that I had to keep moving forward with drawing.”
Clower’s first portrait was of her son, Devin, but she has since drawn dozens more for her project, Into Light.
Clower said the project designed itself. She wanted to do something for those who were in similar situations, but she said she wanted it to be more than drawing a portrait and mailing it to a family.
“I wanted more community, more connection, more support,” Clower said. “I also wanted to think in terms of eliminating the stigma that often accompanies drug addiction.”
To accomplish this goal, Clower plans to host an Into Light exhibition in every state.
The first of Clower’s exhibitions was held in Baltimore, the city where Devin died, in 2019. The next Into Light will be hosted at the Mission Health/AB Tech Conference Center Gallery from Oct. 19 to Nov. 20. Clower said plans for Ohio and Pennsylvania are already in the works.
Each Into Light exhibition will contain 41 portraits of individuals who have died from drug addiction. After the exhibition, the portraits are digitized and the originals are given to the families.
Clower said she chose to do 41 portraits because she wanted people to wonder about the numbers related to drug addiction.
In 2017, the U.S. saw more than 70,000 overdose deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Clower said she wants to take this number and humanize it.
Clower’s mission and her dedication to it inspired filmmaker Amy Scott to film a documentary about Into Light.
While Scott said she is not yet sure what the final product will look like, she hopes the documentary will help in Clower’s mission to put a face to the opioid crisis. She has already filmed Clower outside of the home where her son died and giving one of her portraits to a widow.
“I was interested in making a film that helps viewers see the magnitude through Theresa’s art, but also explores a mother's grief and how she is dealing with it by trying to educate people and bring awareness to the crisis,” Scott said.
Scott, a senior correspondent for Marketplace, said Clower’s story spoke to her as a mother.
“I’m a mother, and listening to her talk about what she went through with the death of her son and also her description of drawing him as if she was visiting with him was very moving to me,” Scott said.
Clower said she visits with all of her subjects when drawing. Each portrait takes her up to 10 hours to complete.
While drawing, Clower said she spends time with her subjects looking for the nuances in their faces. These nuances are part of why Clower calls her project Into Light. She said by creating graphite portraits, viewers can see the light and dark of every face.
“Light has so many beautiful, beautiful connotations. It made so much sense to think in terms of light because we’re all made up of light and dark,” Clower said. “That’s one of the beauties of this graphite work, just black and white. It embodies light and dark and all the shades in between and it’s a metaphor for what we all are.”
Clower is currently accepting submissions for the Asheville exhibition on her website, https://intolightproject.org/.