A New Hampshire mother is living by the late Carrie Fisher’s words: “Take your broken heart, make it into art.”
Artist Anne Marie Zanfagna’s work is of a special sentimental value to many in her community. Her nonprofit, “Angels of Addictions,” gives oil paintings to people who have lost loved ones to drug addiction. Her 90 oil paintings of people who died from addiction-related causes are on exhibition at the New Hampshire State Library, in Concord.
“My message is recovery and awareness,” Zanfagna said. “I want people to know. Parents and grandparents to know. This can happen to anybody.”
As part of her effort to bring more awareness to the opioid epidemic in her state, Zanfagna said she contacted the local government about providing a venue for her exhibition. The state was interested in her work because its purpose is to increase addiction awareness. She was allowed to showcase her work in the state library.
“When I saw all 90 together it was very powerful,” Zanfagna said. “It struck me that every one of those beautiful people are dead.”
‘I was spending time with her’
Zanfagna lost her daughter, Jacqueline, to a heroin overdose in 2014. She said her pain was so unbearable it took her 10 months to pick up a paintbrush. Once she did, she knew she wanted to see her daughter’s face again.
“When I painted Jackie it felt like I was spending time with her,” Zanfagna said.
Zanfagna said she took up the posterization technique of oil painting and incorporated bright colors into Jacqueline’s likeness. After she completed it, Zanfagna showed Jacqueline’s painting to her support group. She offered to paint one for anyone who was interested.
“It kind of snowballed from there,” Zanfagna said.
Zanfagna doesn’t charge for her paintings. She said “Angels of Addictions” has a GoFundMe campaign to raise funds for art supplies and for the cost of maintaining a nonprofit.
“If you’ve had a child who died from heroin, you may not have a lot left from investing so much in them,” Zanfagna said. “I could never say no to someone for a financial reason.”
‘She brought his life back to me’
Amanda Lawler Jordan is one of many parents to whom Zanfagna has brought joy. Her son, Christopher Honor, passed away in 2015 of an accidental heroin overdose. He had turned 22 exactly a month before his death.
“He wanted to be a sports broadcaster,” Jordan said. “Everything was just taken from him due to the heroin and the addiction.”
Zanfagna offered to do an oil painting of Honor. Jordan said seeing her son’s oil painting helped her “heal a little.”
“She brought his life back to me,” Jordan said. “It’s not just a face. It’s a story. There’s a story behind every face.”
She said that a few days before Honor died, he called her and said he was lonely. Jordan said she believes this was because the one-year anniversary of his girlfriend’s death was coming up.
Honor’s girlfriend was Courtney Griffin, a young woman who also died of a heroin overdose. Zanfagna’s oil painting of Griffin is also featured in the exhibit.
“They were always laughing and were as happy as could be together,” Jordan said. “You could never tell that either one of them had an addiction. They were very functional.”
Jordan said the awareness aspect of “Angels of Addictions” is important because it paints a different picture of those who struggle with addiction. Jordan said the paintings don’t depict the “horrible monsters many people make addicts to be.”
This, Zanfagna said, is one of the reasons why she uses “happy colors.”
Surprise in the mail
For Heidi Snyder Maddock, Zanfagna’s painting of her son, Jared, is a way to keep his memory alive.
“I love the way she captured him, and it’s really a beautiful gift for us,” Maddock said.
Maddock said Jared “struggled with addiction more than half of his life.” His problems grew as he got older. Maddock said her son sought out treatment several times but never fully recovered from his addiction.
Jared died in July 2016.
When Maddock heard of “Angels of Addictions,” she sent Zanfagna her favorite picture of Jared, one that captured the “fun guy” Maddock says her son was.
Maddock said she initially didn’t hear back from Zanfagna. Then one day, she found a surprise in the mail. It was an oil painting of the picture she had sent the artist.
Maddock was so pleased with the painting she visited Zanfagna’s exhibition in the state library.
“It was just lovely to see the faces of all these people who have really, really struggled,” Maddock said. “It was an honor to see our son’s picture there.”
The “Angels of Addictions” exhibit will be on display until August 31 at the New Hampshire State Library. Zanfagna said she and a friend are working on a poetry book that will feature the oil paintings from “Angels of Addictions.” The book will be called “Portraits, Poems, and Heroin” and will be released later this year.