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When Dana Ellis lost her son in a car crash in 2001, she began painting to deal with the grief.
“I could feel him when I painted him,” Ellis said.
After completing several portraits of her son, Shane, she connected with other bereaved parents, capturing the faces of their deceased children on canvas. The paintings, like other pieces of her collection, seek to promote hope and healing through art.
Ellis is spreading that message through downtown Crawfordsville this summer — on a much smaller scale. The Crawfordsville resident is attaching inspirational notes to miniature paintings and hiding them in the center of town for people to discover and keep.
“Life’s hard. People struggle to find hope every day,” Ellis said. “And I just want to encourage [them to not] give up.”
Ellis hid her first batch of 70 paintings last month. Those finding one of the 6-by-6 canvases were encouraged to post a photo to her public Facebook page.
“There still could be some out there. I don’t know,” Ellis said.
Larger paintings have been added to the hunt. One 2-by-3 piece features a bunch of floating lanterns with the message, “Your light shines bright!” and another is a portrait of a girl’s face, with the message “You are beautiful!”
The paintings will remain hidden until the end of the month. Ellis plans another “art hunt” next summer.
Ellis, who was a longtime local hairstylist, became an artist in the 1990s after a lesson at a craft store. She started painting portraits after Shane’s death. Ellis’s show, “Inspiring Hope,” is currently on display in the Mary Bishop Memorial Gallery at the Crawfordsville District Public Library.
The gallery includes portraits of her family members and a collection of Santa Claus pictures.
“I’m just fascinated with painting faces, even people I don’t know,” Ellis said.