- Associated Press - Friday, August 8, 2014

MUNCIE, Ind. (AP) - When Sherria Jean Jackson died of an asthma attack in 2009 at 28 years of age, she left behind a heartbroken husband and four grieving children.

What she didn’t leave behind, to speak of, were pictures of herself.

The only exception was a tattered black-and-white print of a photograph crosshatched with so many wrinkles, it almost looked like a road map.

“It’s been a pretty tough road,” said Billy Boykins, Sherria’s widower. “Everybody said move on, but it’s not that easy.”

In the midst of their loss, the fact he had no acceptable picture of his wife, and his children - I’yana, 9, Raye’ana, 8, and twins Neaveh and Haven, 6 - had no acceptable picture of their mother, weighed on him. That was when, having seen her name in a newspaper announcement regarding the Muncie Artists Guild, he contacted executive board member Susie Burns for help.

“He said, ‘Is there anyone in your group who can paint a portrait for me?’” Burns recalled with a smile. “He told me, ‘I can pay as much as $30.’”

As it happened, the Guild was meeting that night, so Burns raised the matter, asking, “Would anyone like to take this on as a project?” Every member there volunteered - for free, of course - news she happily delivered to Boykins shortly thereafter.

“I told him, ‘Billy, you’re not going to get a portrait,’” Burns told The Star Press (http://tspne.ws/1sF8I5l ). “‘You’re going to get seven.’”

Upon hearing that, he cried.

So that explains what Boykins and his children, as well as Pastor Royce Mitchell and his wife, Joyce, the overseers of the family’s church, Deliverance Temple, were doing Wednesday evening in a meeting room at Minnetrista. With them were about 25 members of the Guild. Near one wall, a snack table bearing punch, cupcakes and your requisite cheese ball awaited eating. Against another wall, chairs were lined, and on each a framed picture rested, its back to the audience.

At the appointed time, Boykins and his children were called before a line of artists including Burns, Liz Guntle, Debbie Brown, Mary Warner, Jill Palumbo, Beverly Garringer, Chicqiela Elbert, Jean McCauley and Ann Johnson. Then, smiling, the artists revealed the portraits they had painted to the family.

Working at home, they had used oils, pencils, water colors and pastels among other mediums. When they recently got together for a work session in the studio behind Burns’ home, a colorful place redolent with art and all its trappings, they were still working on portraits.

Painting with oils, Warner said her portrait was a change, not to mention a stretch, from the flowers and animals she normally paints.

“It was a challenge,” she said, “but I enjoyed it.”

In creating the paintings, Burns added, Guild members had realized their group goal of helping individuals and the community through their passion for art.

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