BOUNTIFUL — When the first soldiers were killed in action during the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, Anne Marie Oborn wondered how she could help those families suffering from the loss of their loved ones.

Oborn, of Bountiful, thought she could help by using her painting skills to create oil-portraits of the veterans for the families.

At first, she wasn’t sure how to get started. But she soon learned about a non-profit organization called Project Compassion, based out of Manti, which already did exactly what Oborn was looking for.

The group was formed by Kaziah Hancock in 2003. After listening to the radio announcing the first casualties of the war, Hancock was immediately inspired to begin painting portraits for the families.

“I was just led by a broken heart, and I wanted to do something. The only thing I am is an artist, so I decided I will paint until I either get all of them done, or expire trying,” said Hancock, referring to the thousands of veterans who have died since Sept. 11, 2001.

Hancock recruited Oborn in 2004, and together their paintings were able to reach into the hearts of families affected by such devastating loss.

“I wanted to do something to help the hurt the only way I could. That was by painting pictures of the soldiers,” said Oborn, who has been painting for more than 40 years. “You just try to do what you have been given to hopefully bless someone else’s life. The thing that touches their hearts is that somebody cared enough to do something for them.”

Originally, the paintings were funded completely out of Oborn’s and Hancock’s pockets. That was until a generous donor, who prefers to remain anonymous, came to Project Compassion shortly after Oborn joined up with Hancock and offered to pay for all of the art supplies and frames.

By the end of 2012, Hancock said the donor will contribute nearly $500,000 toward the art supplies.

Project Compassion now consists of five artists, all based out of Utah. Together, they have completed more than 4,000 paintings.

Though the cost of supplies is covered by the donor, the artists’ time spent painting is not compensated. Oborn has donated her time to 254 paintings, thus far.

One of those paintings was for Kathleen and Trent Stephens of Pocatello, Idaho. The painting is of their 25-year-old son, who died in Iraq a few years ago when the Humvee he was riding in blew up. The portrait now hangs in the Stephens’ living room and helps brighten their spirits.

“It was a very tender time, and it was good that she was so generous to do something like that for us,” Kathleen Stephens said. “It’s wonderful when other people think of his sacrifice because it helps heal the wounds that are brought upon your heart.”

Oborn has experienced the devastating sadness that comes with losing someone close to her. After the tragic death of her 2-year-old grandson six years ago due to a medical illness, a new dimension was added to her paintings.

“After he died, I had a renewed desire to paint those soldiers because a different dimension was added to my love and appreciation for their sacrifice,” Oborn said. “Because I lost him (my grandson), I was able to relate to the veterans families in a small way.”

Before she begins painting each portrait, she studies the photographs sent to her from the families. One of her main goals is to not just recreate the photograph, but to truly capture the personality of the soldiers.

As she paints, there are often moments when she feels the presence of the one she is painting.

“I feel like they’re visiting me, and I reverence that experience,” Oborn said. “I think they’re just glad I’m trying to do something for their family.”

For more information, visit www.heropaintings.com.

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