Press Articles and Excerpts
They say a picture’s worth a thousand words, but Suzanne Gallagher is more humble about her work. She just hopes her pictures are worthy of the words that accompany them.
The artist, owner of an Olde Towne East gallery called the Roscoe Room, is in the midst of an ambitious project inspired by a shocking statistic. According to one study, about 22 current and former U.S. military personnel commit suicide every day.
“I was mad when I heard about it,” said Gallagher, daughter of a Marine veteran. She responded by launching “The Smile Lines Project,” a collection of 52 portraits of veterans and active service members—one representing every state, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Each portrait is accompanied by a statement on how that individual dealt with the challenges that stemmed from his or her service.
“With a problem like this, you should throw everything, including the kitchen sink, at it,” Gallagher said. “This is the kitchen sink.”
The project is not yet finished and has changed greatly since Gallagher first began thinking about it. “My original plan for this project was (to paint) 80-, 90-year-old vets with great, scraggly smile lines,” she said. Her hope was that the portraits of these World War II veterans would send a comforting message to those troubled by their service in later years: “Hang in there. You have smile lines yet to earn.”
Gallagher said she shifted strategies after approaching three or four of the older veterans and being told, “This is a great project, but I’m not worthy.”
Fortunately, Gallagher found new inspiration in the form of a man she’d already painted, whom she refers to as Dean P. “He was going through the ends of a post-traumatic stress disorder dark time, and he never smiled,” she said. “So I kind of thought about the project, and I threw it at him. As a Marine, he had a lot of suggestions.”
After that, Gallagher dropped the age requirement and just began inviting veterans and active service members to take part in her project. She didn’t even ask them whether they’d been through similarly dark times, though they often volunteered that they had.
Instead, Gallagher focused on how they had become the survivors she was seeing before her. “I’m basically asking them, ‘How come you are vibrant and vital and driving? What has helped you?’”
The result is the statements that are displayed below the portraits, all of them written by the individuals themselves. Gallagher said what impresses her is that each person has found his or her own source of strength.
“Everyone is coming at it in a different way,” she said.
Explaining how they fought their way back from depression, the models—who served as long ago as the Vietnam era—cite everything from scuba diving and weightlifting to the support of friends and family. Others mention the need for eating properly and even drinking enough water.
Still others offer advice of both the philosophical and practical variety.
Though Gallagher is protecting the anonymity of her subjects, she revealed that one of them—“Walt G”—is her own father. In fact, she’s met all of the 26 or so men and women who’ve posed for her so far in the Central Ohio area.
Even though the project has had more of a local flavor then she originally intended, Gallagher said she hasn’t given up her goal of painting one individual to represent each state. She’s just being creative about the way she assigns that state.
“I don’t want anybody (to be) turned down, so right now I’m being a little loose,” she said. “I ask different states that they were stationed at, where they were born.”
The ultimate goal is the same: 52 paintings, a total she plans to reach by adding four paintings per month. To keep herself on track, Gallagher holds an “update party” at her gallery the last Friday of each month. There, on one side of the room, patrons can see the paintings—which are in various stages of completion—along with the accompanying statements.
Once the collection is finished, Gallagher hopes to take it on tour for a couple of years. After that, she plans to give each portrait to its respective subject as her thanks for taking part in the project—and for sharing his or her tips on dealing with the kind of stress that has led too many to contemplate suicide.
“The statements are blowing me away,” she said. “If I could do the best paintings of my life and honor these individuals with gratitude for helping me with this project, that would make me very happy.”
Update parties for “The Smile Lines Project” are held from 7 to 10 p.m. the last Friday of each month at the Roscoe Room, 60 Parsons Ave., Columbus.
by Richard Ades
JULY 2, 2014
The Columbus Free Press
June 14th 2014
“Spending Flag Day at the Grove City Arts Festival, and delighted to find the Smile Lines Project’s Portraits of veterans. Smile Lines tells their stories in words and art and raises awareness of veterans struggles. Thank you Suzanne for your work.”
-Mary Jo Kilroy
-Former U.S. Representative for Ohio’s 15th congressional district