Grieving Mom Paints Colorful Portraits of Lives Lost to Addiction

By Britni de la Cretaz 08/24/17

Anne Marie Zanfagna lost her daughter to a heroin overdose in 2014. She's now channeling her grief into art.

Oil paintings by Anne Marie Zanfagna
Oil paintings by Anne Marie Zanfagna via Facebook/Angels of Addiction

A New Hampshire mother is turning her pain and heartbreak into art. After losing her youngest daughter Jacqueline to a heroin overdose in 2014, artist Anne Marie Zanfagna began creating oil paintings of people who have been lost to addiction. Zanfagna’s non-profit, Angels of Addiction, was born a year after Jacqueline’s death.

"My message is recovery and awareness," Zanfagna told CNN. "I want people to know. Parents and grandparents to know. This can happen to anybody." According to the organization's website, Anne Marie’s ultimate goal is to create a traveling art show that brings her portraits first to the New Hampshire State House, and then around the country.

She has taken a first step towards achieving that goal with her exhibit at the New Hampshire State Library. "When I saw all 90 together it was very powerful," Zanfagna said to CNN. "It struck me that every one of those beautiful people are dead."

The portraits are of mothers, fathers, children, friends, and more. In New Hampshire, the state has begun cracking down on drug dealers who are linked to overdose deaths. The state has one of the highest rates of opioid overdose in the country.

For Zanfagna, she says that painting her portrait of Jacqueline was a healing experience, and that it felt like she was spending time with her daughter while she painted.

Angels of Addiction creates portraits for people who want them free of charge—crowdfunding money for art supplies. According to the website, once Anne Marie had begun painting portraits for people who had lost loved ones, she realized she had found “her calling, her new mission in life.”

Zanfagna hopes to one day fund a yearly art therapy scholarship in her daughter’s name for a student who hopes to work in addiction services. Art therapy can be a huge asset for people recovering from drug and alcohol addiction. A 2014 study found that 36.8% of U.S. addiction treatment programs offered some form of art therapy. According to the study, the benefits of art therapy include a reduction of shame and denial, and an increase in motivation and communication skills. Art therapy has also been shown to help people move through feelings of ambivalence on their path to recovery.

Zanfagna uses bright colors to paint her portraits—what she refers to as “happy colors”—as a way to shatter the stigma and stereotype of people who struggle with drug addiction as bad people. The portraits will remain on display at the New Hampshire Public Library until August 31.

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Britni de la Cretaz is a freelance writer, baseball enthusiast, and recovered alcoholic living in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @britnidlc.