FRESNO — Kaziah Hancock gets teary-eyed when she talks about the portraits of military members she lovingly paints as gifts to parents whose sons or daughters have died serving their country.
It's the least she can do, she said, to help those who have lost so much. "It's a simple act of kindness from one American to another," Hancock said.
The Utah artist heads the nonprofit Project Compassion, a group of five artists who lend their time and talent to paint portraits of fallen service members. They have painted 1,800 original portraits — Hancock has produced about 660 of them — and they have a long list of requests.
Four San Joaquin Valley families whose loved ones died in service received 18-by-24-inch portraits from Hancock last week during an art show and reception in downtown Fresno at the KYNO/KJWL gallery.
The four service members are:
Army Cpl. Michael Rojas of Fresno, 21, killed in 2007
Marine Lance Cpl. Anthony "Tony" Butterfield, 19, of Clovis, killed in 2006
Marine Lance Cpl. Branden Ramey, 22, of Madera, killed in 2004
Army National Guard Sgt. Patrick Ryan McCaffrey Sr., 34, of Tracy, killed in 2004
About a month ago, Hancock contacted Fresno-based Brotherhood of the Badge International, a nonprofit group that provides equipment for Afghan and Iraqi police and firefighters, asking them to put her in touch with some local families.
Ken Shockley, the group's vice president, said they contacted several, and in about a month, the portraits were completed.
A trip to Fresno grew to include an art show and reception Nov. 6 featuring some of Hancock's other artwork and giving her a chance to meet with some of the families to present the portraits.
Art sale proceeds benefited Project Compassion; the event was sponsored by Brotherhood of the Badge.
Founded in 2003, Project Compassion's headquarters is the basement of Hancock's home in Manti, Utah, a rural property where she raises goats.
The artist's colorful life is the subject of a documentary, "Kaziah The Goat Woman," which was shown at the Fresno show.
Rojas' mother, Debbie Apodaca, said she is impressed by Hancock's work and feels honored to have her son's portrait painted, even though his death is still painfully fresh in her memory.
"It's an honor, yet it's kind of sad," she said.
Butterfield's mother, Robin Butterfield, said the hardest part was deciding what pictures to submit.
Butterfield and Apodaca said they were prepared for the emotional presentation of the portraits.
Hancock said most portraits take about three days to paint, but some can take a week or more. Each portrait is valued at about $2,000, but the letters and e-mails of gratitude are priceless, she said.
Hancock said she doesn't get to meet many of the families in person and was glad to have the opportunity at the reception.
"I have such respect for these parents who raise children with a desire to serve. ... We live in much too selfish of a world."