'Faces of West Chester': Pandemic portrait project brings neighborhood together

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Tuesday, June 28, 2022
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When local artist Susan Curtin couldn't see her neighbors' faces in-person, she would see them on her canvas.

WEST CHESTER, Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- Susan Curtin has been an artist her whole life. She recalls how the hobby helped her break away from shyness in her youth. And after her latest project, she has become the furthest thing from shy.

"During the pandemic, I was very isolated from everybody and I was missing everybody," she said. "I started to mull this idea that I wanted to do drawings of children."

During her daily walks, Curtin, 70, would ask neighbors for permission to snap their photos. Then, she would return home and produce a masterful sketch over the course of three days.

After two years, the "Faces of West Chester" project concluded with roughly 145 portraits depicting all ages and walks of life.

"It made me, anyway, feel like a real part of the world again," said neighbor Dena Beeghly.

Curtin's hobby became a spectator sport for neighbors who followed her on the internet.

"You recognize the people on Facebook when she posted them," said Maryann Nicholson. "While you don't know who they are, you realize that they are a part of your life."

Soon, the West Chester community will see their faces in the spotlight. Curtin's portraits will be headlining a 10-day-long exhibit that the public can enjoy. The Church Street Gallery will open its doors to guests on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays from 12:00pm to 4:00pm and on Saturdays from 11:00am to 5:00pm. The show kicks off with a grand-opening on Wednesday, June 29 at 5:00pm and the last day of the show is Saturday, July 9.

Curtin hopes her project inspires neighbors near and far to reach out to one another and work together to build a strong sense of community.

"I hope that other people realize that sort of casual saying hello and asking if you need help can go a long way," she said.

To learn more about the upcoming exhibit, visit the Church Street Gallery website.

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