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Artist using skills to benefit Cabell County first responders

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HUNTINGTON, WV (WOWK) — Every day is a new start. A new page. A blank canvas.

During a time when many are struggling, Barboursville native and painter Sassa Wilkes is getting creative with bold strokes. The private lessons Wilkes once taught are now on hold due to the pandemic. Now, she’s using her brush to recognize women while helping others during these difficult times.

The pandemic kept her away from her studio. The death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg led her back to the canvas. “It was a good way to spend my day, just learning about somebody and honoring them,” Wilkes said.

Ginsburg’s painting is the first of 100 women Wilkes will complete before the year is over. She’s already painted several including Maya Angelou, Frida Khalo, Michelle Obama, Mother Jones, and Rosa Parks. Also, a proud portrait of Ironton, Ohio native and Huntington’s Fire Chief, Jan Rader.

“There’s not a single person here that doesn’t have an immediate story of loss to drug addiction,” Wilkes said. “(Chief Rader) fits on that wall with those women to me.”

“Wow,” Chief Rader said about Wilke’s comment. “That’s very humbling to me. I’m speechless and that’s unusual for me.”

Wilkes felt weird about the idea of selling Chief Rader’s picture, but then she thought, ‘why not help people?’ Now, all the sales from Chief Rader’s portrait will go to the “Compass Navigating Wellness” program.

“Compass” helps first responders deal with compassion fatigue and PTSD. It’s a cause near and dear to Chief Rader’s heart and mission.

“We as first responders are not very accepting of help, we just want to give help,” Chief Rader said.

Now, Wilkes is urging others to do all they can do, to be bold, draw your stories, and paint your truths. Truths which are not easily diluted.

Wilkes usually listens to recordings of the women she paints while she works. She also writes up a brief description of what she learned before posting the finished portraits on her online store.

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