Portraits of poverty: Woman paints the homeless and poverty-stri - WECT TV6-WECT.com:News, weather & sports Wilmington, NC

Portraits of poverty: Woman paints the homeless and poverty-stricken

Toni Nicholson holds a self-portrait painted by a local Wilmington artist. (Source: WECT) Toni Nicholson holds a self-portrait painted by a local Wilmington artist. (Source: WECT)
WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) -

A Wilmington woman is putting the finishing touches on a year-and-half long project to put a face to the people struggling with homelessness and others in need.

Sharon Wozniak-Spencer, a former Myrtle Grove Middle School art teacher, paints portraits of the homeless and poverty-stricken people she meets in downtown Wilmington and at the Hope Center.

"I knew I wanted to work with portraits," Wozniak-Spencer said. "In the back of my mind, I always had remembered my mom's influence in the fact that she came from poverty."

She draws inspiration from her mother, but also the subject of her first portrait -- Toni Nicholson.

"We clicked because her family was a little bit like my family," Nicholson, a homeless woman, explained.

Nicholson said no one had ever painted her portrait until she met Wozniak-Spencer.

"Oh, she gave me character," Nicholson said. "I love it. I told her I wanted her to get my blue eyes and she told me she would get my blue eyes."

Nicholson's blue eyes stand out among 12 other portraits titled "Faces of Courage" that will be displayed at the Cameron Art Museum Aug. 10.

"(The subjects') excitement for what I'm doing is just as real as my excitement for what I am doing when I paint them," Wozniak-Spencer said. "They fuel me to continue on. They let me know how inspiring the work is to them."

Wozniak-Spencer said it takes anywhere from four to nine weeks to complete a portrait, but the impact lasts a lifetime.

"I thought, 'Wait, do I look like that?'" Nicholson said. "I've come to realize yeah, that's how she sees me. I like how she sees me."

Wozniak-Spencer started the series as part of her thesis for the Academy of Art University in San Francisco.

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