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Best Face Forward

Local artist sketches portraits to share faith and encourage children


Photo by Eugenia Jones
Wright is pictured by the mural, Book of Life-Aborted Children, she painted in her Sunday School classroom at Stearns Baptist Church. Wright is known for her pencil and pastel portraits.

For Shirley Nunn Wright, there’s a lot more to her talent of sketching portraits than just using a pencil to capture the likenesses of individuals and transferring them to paper.   The spry eighty-one year old sees her talent as a God-given way for sharing her Christian faith, and when sketching children, helping them feel better about themselves.

“Children have a lot on them today,” Wright observed.  “They need encouragement.  For a lot of children, my portraits give them a needed boost.  I try to bring out a child’s best features.  It gives some of them a needed lift.”

To prove the point, Wright shared a story about one little girl who called herself fat and ugly.

“I drew that little girl’s picture to show her how pretty she is,” Wright recalled.  “She was pleased.  The portrait let her see herself in a different way.  I thought she would frame it for her mother, but instead she carried it with her wherever she went.”

Wright also recalled one child’s father expressing joy when his extremely shy daughter began singing in the Church choir after Wright sketched her portrait.

Wright, born in Revelo, saved by Jesus at Whitley City 2nd Baptist Church, and a graduate of McCreary County High School, remembers sitting in school and drawing.  After graduating from high school, she stepped away from sketching as she married and became a mother to her own children and numerous foster children.  She didn’t start sketching again until she was about fifty-five years old.

Living in Ohio for a segment of her adult life, Wright returned to McCreary County to do children’s vision therapy at Associates in Eye Care.  She still works there today and enjoys her work with children.

“The Lord has put a lot of children in my path,” Wright reminisced.  “I’m thankful for that.”

Wright gives God all the glory for her talent.  Self-taught, she took one art class in Winfield, TN and was a member of the local art club for about five years.  Wright names Sarah Cartwright from Georgia as someone who was influential in encouraging her to keep on sketching.

“Sarah Cartwright came in the office one day while I was working,” Wright said.  “She was an art teacher, and I told her how much I enjoy drawing.  She wanted to see my work, and she liked it.”

Cartwright told Wright to keep sketching and frequently sent art books and materials to Shirley.

“Sarah is the one who got me doing pastels,” Wright acknowledged.

Wright can do several types of drawings including murals such as the one on her Sunday school classroom wall entitled “Book of Life-Aborted Children” and the Disney murals she painted for a work office.  However, her preference is for pencil sketch or pastel portraits.  Even as a child, she gravitated toward portraits.  Today, it takes about fifteen to twenty minutes for Wright to complete a typical portrait sketch.

At one time, on almost every Saturday, Wright volunteered  to sketch portraits of those who came to the McCreary County Museum.  She also has sketched portraits for tourists riding the train at Stearns.  She has sketched folks from across the nation and around the world.  For five years, she sketched portraits at Williamsburg, KY’s ARRP Convention.

Wright can’t pinpoint the exact number of portraits she has sketched but knows it is well in the thousands.  In addition to the many locals and tourists she has sketched, Wright has done portraits for every child completing vision therapy with her at Associates in Eye Care.  She has received letters and thank-you notes from many.

Wright, who still teaches Sunday School and drives a church van, has been active in child evangelism for forty-five years.  She is thankful her God-given artistic talent allows her to serve Him and gives thanks each day for being able to serve her best friend-the Lord.

“He gave me a talent and a love for children,” the lively octogenarian remarked.  “My whole life is the Lord’s work.  I want to do everything I can to bring glory to Him.”

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