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In ‘This is Salisbury,’ Manier paints people who make city a better place to live

SALISBURY — When Shane Manier set out to paint portraits of locals for an exhibit at the Center for Faith and the Arts, she sought people who “have done beautiful work in the community.”

It was only natural when she chose to include Emily Soward in one of the portraits.

Soward, who was born in Massachusetts and made Salisbury her home, spent her life being creative. She was publicly known for her role in the local band Mama Tried. She mastered every instrument she touched and enjoying singing, song writing, painting drawing, taking photographs with film cameras, crocheting and crafting of all sorts. She restored old fireplaces and worked as a landscape designer.

Surrounded by family and friends, she died Sept. 14 from injuries sustained in a crash on Stokes Ferry Road, her obituary states.

Her bandmates posted a message on their Facebook page calling her death “an absolutely incredible loss for not only us, but the community as a whole.”

In a GoFundMe to help Soward’s family with expenses, close friend Elysia Demers, who runs Grievous Gallery, recounted the first time Soward took the stage to sing in front of a crowd. Demers said her friend was “pure love.”

Soward’s portrait included in the exhibit at the Center for the Faith and the Arts will be present at a celebration of life service today at Grievious Gallery. The image shows Soward looking down at her guitar and surrounded by her Mama Tried bandmates, Kent Smith and Duke Wicker.

Manier said she’s grateful Soward was able to see the painting before the crash.

Others included in the exhibit range from business owners to artists.

“I have always been fascinated with how Salisbury has a lot of underlying issues going on, but there are all these beautiful groups of people trying to meet the need … I just wanted to really show they’re appreciated and they’re being seen and heard,” Manier said. “That’s why I really wanted to do the show. I don’t think that there’s enough light on that and showing how beautiful a city’s community is and how that contributes to its growth more than any laws or politicians.”

The exhibit, called “This is Salisbury” will be on display until the end of October at the Center for Faith and the Arts, which is located at 207 West Harrison St. in Salisbury. Manier will be at the center on Thursdays from 12:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. People can also view the exhibit on Tuesdays from 2 p.m. until 5 p.m.

Manier said she completed one portrait per day until she finished all 21 pieces on display. Sometimes, the work occurred in the evenings and into early morning hours the following day. She thrived with a deadline looming for the show’s opening last week. All portraits required between five to eight hours of work.

“I wanted these pieces to be more intuitive mark-making and not overthink them,” she said. “Really sit down in front of the paper and think what color represents Mike-o and go with that. What symbols represent this person, the work that they’ve done and how they’ve touched this community?”

The portrait for Mike-0 Martelli, for example, shows strings of leaves because he’s known for connecting people with one another. They’re leaves because that act helps the community grow, Manier said. In the painting of Mayor Pro Tem Al Heggins and husband Isaac, there are silhouettes of bridges because the two are bridge builders, Manier said.

Besides highlighting local people, painting is therapy for Manier, who relied on art and poetry during a rough upbringing that included violence and trauma.

“I always like to say the pen grants me freedom and the brush grants me peace,” she said.

She teaches others about the value of art at Henderson Independent School as part of being an artist in residence at Center for Faith and the Arts. Andi Cantrell, the center’s executive director, says students in the arts program have fewer absences and higher grades.

Betty Jo Hardy, board vice chair for the Center for Faith and the Arts, says she’s impressed by how Manier has poured herself into meaningful work at Henderson and in art.

“She sees the good in people,” Hardy said. “She always finds something good in everybody.”

Manier’s zest for life shines through in the portraits, said the center’s board chair, Barbara Corriher.

“I know that in her heart there’s pain and there’s challenge, but she’s also finding passion, filled with passion, and joy” Corriher said. “That’s what comes out in these portraits to me is her joy for life and what these people bring to our community. She really should have a self portrait up there because she does so much for anybody she comes into contact with.”

Following Manier’s show, the Center for Faith and the Arts will display an exhibit by another one of its artists in residence, Jah Smalls, who is working on a show about trauma.

For more information about the center, visit faithart.org.

To contribute to the GoFundMe for Emily Soward, visit gofund.me/5de5f871.

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