Artistic hearts pay tribute to Newtown victims at Shelton studio

Artist Alexandra Loh of Shelton was determined to pay tribute to 6-year-old Newtown victim Jesse Lewis in her heart-shaped painting.

“He was fearless and adventurous, and he liked to have fun,” Loh said of the 6-year-old. “He had an army helmet he liked to wear everywhere. He lived on a farm and liked horses.”

Loh painted Jesse as a knight on a horse headed toward a castle — with his helmet on.

It’s one of 26 hearts painted by artists to represent each of the Sandy Hook Elementary School victims as part of the “heARTS for Newtown” project organized by The Giggling Pig art studio in Shelton.

Different artists were chosen to create a heart-shaped design out of a 2-foot by 2-foot piece of wood. On Wednesday evening, the hearts were displayed at the art studio on Route 110.

The hearts will remain on display for the public to view on Thursday from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. at the studio, 478 River Road. Mayor Mark Lauretti was among the visitors during the Wednesday evening reception.

Most of the hearts are hanging by wire from the ceiling, with decorative ribbons tied to the bottom like string to a balloon. One, with wing extensions, was placed on an easel and another was carefully positioned on a wooden bench.

Messages on the way to heaven

Hannah Perry, Giggling Pig owner and one of the artists, said the idea for the project is based on when her young son had once attached a note with a message for God on a helium balloon.

The balloon headed toward heaven, she said, and so symbolically will the artwork shaped like heart-shaped balloons.

Many of the artists included notes to the person they memorialized on the back side of the artwork. “Our messages from the 26 artists are going up to heaven,” Perry said.

According to HeARTS for Newtown publicity material, “Little letters, messages and feelings from 26 artists — we are sending them up to the children and teachers to let them know that even strangers miss them, love them and are proud of their bravery.”

Perry said the hearts eventually will be given to an art center in Newtown, but in the near future may be exhibited at different venues in various locations. “We’re hoping they will travel a bit,” she said.

‘I cried a lot when painting’

Artist Andreas Eldracher created a heart in memory of teacher Victoria Soto of Stratford. He grew up in the Lordship section of Stratford with Soto’s mom, Donna. “We went to grammar school together,” he said.

A commercial artist by trade, the Torrington resident contacted The Giggling Pig after being told about the project by a photographer he uses in his profession.

“I wanted to do something in her memory,” Eldracher said of Victoria Soto. “It really hit home. It was a joy to put it together, but I cried a lot when painting.”

He created a montage of things that Soto loved, based on conversations with her mother. It features everything from pink flamingos (she collected flamingo knickknacks) to the New York Yankees logo and pinstripes (her favorite sports team), as well as her black Lab, Roxie.

The heart for Soto includes the words, “Live, Laugh, Love.” According to Eldracher, “That was her theory in life.”

A field of sunflowers

Artist Gail Bell painted a heart for 6-year-old Dylan Hockley. Bell teaches a class at The Giggling Pig.

Bell was at first reluctant when asked to create a heart, partly because she didn’t know Dylan or his family. Then the Fairfield resident realized it was an honor.

She drew Dylan flapping his arms while running through a field of sunflowers, surrounded by butterflies.

Dylan’s mother has said her son, who had autism, would flap his arms when excited. Dylan would tell his mom he did this because he “wanted to be a beautiful butterfly.”

Bell said Dylan liked the trampoline and spaghetti and the color purple (there is a lot of purple in her painting), and his mom’s favorite type of flower was the sunflower.

‘Mystical’ connections

Artist Rose-Ann C. Chrzanowski honored Sandy Hook Elementary Principal Dawn Hochsprung with her artwork. “The whole experience was very mystical,” Chrzanowski of the project, adding that looking at all 26 hearts on display Wednesday evening was “amazing.”

Chrzanowski, a Naugatuck resident, randomly chose Hochsprung to honor through her art but then realized there were many connections between the two of them.

Hochsprung had grown up in Naugatuck and gone to school with Chrzanowski’s brother. Chrzanowski had taught a Hochsprung relative during her long career as a teacher in Naugatuck.

She highlighted certain colors in her painting, and later was told they represented Hochsprung’s favorite colors. “I didn’t know,” Chrzanowski said.

She eventually met with some of Hochsprung’s relatives. Chrzanowski’s heart for the late principal also features a sunflower, butterfly, feather and purple-colored heart.

Offered to help

Loh, the artist, said she had contacted The Giggling Pig after reading about HeARTS for Newtown in the Shelton Herald to see if she could help in any way. Loh didn’t expect to be asked to complete a painting.

Her mother and victim Jesse Lewis’ mother had worked together at a Milford software company, although Loh herself does not know the Lewis family.

She graduated last year from the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, and now does freelance artwork while also working at a childcare center. Loh is a 2008 Shelton High graduate.

Other participating artists from Shelton were Dana Daxner and Lisa Dickal. Most of the artists come from the region although one is from South Africa.

Reflecting each artist’s style

Each heart reflects the artist’s individual style while also offering insight into the memorialized individual. Some capture one specific scene while others are montages. Some include likenesses of the victims, while others use words to make a connection.

The messages the artists left on the back for the deceased child or educator — and their survivors — are moving. “She who leaves a trail of glitter is never forgotten,” wrote one artist on the back of a heart.

Bill Purcell, Greater Valley Chamber of Commerce president, said the artwork was impressive and touching.

Bill Purcell, Greater Valley Chamber of Commerce president, said the artwork was impressive and touching.

“It represents people coming together through art — the international language,” Purcell said. “It’s an expression of love and caring, and is another reflection of this community’s compassion for those children and their families.”

He said he was “very proud of what [Giggling Pig owner Hannah Perry] has done here.”

The Newtown victims

A gunman killed 20 first-grade students and six educators on Dec. 14, 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. The shooter also murdered his mother and committed suicide.


Charlotte Bacon, 6

Daniel Barden, 7

Olivia Engel, 6

Josephine Gay, 7

Ana M. Marquez-Greene, 6

Dylan Hockley, 6

Madeleine F. Hsu, 6

Catherine V. Hubbard, 6

Chase Kowalski, 7

Jesse Lewis, 6

James Mattioli, 6

Grace McDonnell, 7

Emilie Parker, 6

Jack Pinto, 6

Noah Pozner, 6

Caroline Previdi, 6

Jessica Rekos, 6

Avielle Richman, 6

Benjamin Wheeler, 6

Allison N. Wyatt, 6


Rachel D’Avino, 29, Bethlehem

Dawn Hochsprung, 47, Woodbury

Anne Marie Murphy, 52, Newtown

Lauren Rousseau, 30, Danbury

Mary Sherlach, 56, Trumbull

Victoria Soto, 27, Stratford