An art exhibit that portrays gun violence victims on the second floor of the Woodbury library on Dec. 23 includes portraits of young people whose lives were ended by bullets.
“Each artist in this series created a portrait of a victim of gun violence,” said Loren Dann, an artist, teacher and a Souls Shot Portrait Project participant known as “The Art Lady.” She painted a depiction of 10-year-old Hunter Robert Pederson, who was accidentally shot and killed by his uncle in 2014.
“I talked to the family, and they told me about his life,” recalled Dann, a 1995 graduate of West Deptford High School who now lives in Woodbury with her two children, Milja and Ash. “When you hear people talk about their stories, there is no justice. Some of the suspects were still wanted, or they were released.
“The family members feel that they did not get justice.”
Not all of the exhibit portraits represented homicide victims; some, like Pederson, were killed accidentally.
“Hunter was 10 years old and his life was ended by a bullet to his head,” explained his grandmother, Linda Honickel. “This was not done by a child but by a 30-year-old. If that person had followed the first rule of gun safety, Hunter would still be with us.
“Hunter’s death was a trauma to all of the family,” she added. “It’s that horrible story you hear on the news, but now it’s your story. Hunter was the middle child, with his older sister Kayla and younger sister Emma.”
“Painting Hunter was difficult to do without thinking about his family,” revealed Dann, who said a goal of hers is to effect change through art. “While I painted Hunter, I thought about his likes and dislikes, and childhood in general. Then I painted him with sharks behind him because he was interested in sharks, as if he was just enjoying being a child.”
In his portrait’s background are paragraphs from the book “Little Prince,” by Antoine de Saint-Exupery.
“I imagined Hunter thriving as a child, learning and exploring,” Dunn noted.
The next stop for the exhibit – organized by the New Jersey Soul Shots Portrait Project Chapter – will be Rowan College of South Jersey (RCSJ) in Deptford later this month. The project’s mission is “to use the transformative power of art to bring an end to gun violence and bring attention to, and memorialize, the lives lost and tragically altered due to gun violence.”
Because the holidays are a difficult time for those who’ve experienced violence, Dann shared her talents for a healing sketching and journaling activity during the exhibit.
“It was an opportunity for creativity, healing and dealing with grief,” she observed, pointing out that people drew sensory feelings or just doodled feeling the moment with paper and art supplies on a long table. “We talked about the stories and how we feel.”
Several survivors of gun violence joined Dann for the healing event and shared how they lost a family member to gun violence and were grateful to make the connection with others who’ve experienced a loss.
The library exhibit closes Friday, and volunteers will pack up the paintings and move them to Rowan.
A full-time artist, Dann said she was inspired by the biography of Andy Warhol. After graduating from West Deptford, she earned her bachelor’s degree in fine arts from the Moore College of Art and Design in Philadelphia and is studying for a master’s degree at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore.
Dann’s preference is oil paintings on canvas or wood, and she has had professional exhibits at the Abbaye Gallery in Philadelphia and the Ceres Gallery in New York City. As for her advice to students who want to become artists, Dann said, “It’s doable, it’s important and it’s hard.
“To make it work, you need to control what you create and who you create it for.”