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Program offers lasting connection with Hospice of Northeast Georgia Medical Center patients
Jan Richardson joins in a portrait workshop by nationally acclaimed artist Ernest E. Varner Thursday morning at the Quinlan Visual Arts Center. The artists were painting portraits of Hospice of Northeast Georgia Medical Center patients to present to their families.

Susie Underwood worked on multiple drafts of the letter to accompany Sally Hull’s portrait, a woman in hospice who raised Underwood like one of her own children.

Less than a week later on April 9, Hull died in her sleep.

“She had nine lives, but we didn’t think she was going to die the night she did,” Underwood said. “I think it’s always important to tell people what you think about them, because you never know when you’re going to lose them.”

The Georgia Art League and the Hospice of Northeast Georgia Medical Center have worked together to paint portraits of patients.

Painters of the Georgia Art League gathered at the Gainesville Quinlan Visual Arts Center on Green Street to pick up tips from artist Ernest Varner.

“My thought was getting the pictures from hospice and then painting the picture of the loved ones — some of them are deceased and with some of them their days are numbered,” said Georgia Art League President Regie Kennedy.

The workshop has more painters than patients, meaning that some in the Georgia Art League have doubled up on one photo.

For some painters, the project will be their first portraits.

“To see the talent that has come out of that, it’s astonishing because they’ve tried so hard,” Kennedy said.

Hull and her two daughters moved in next to Underwood when Underwood’s mother was battling colon cancer. When her mother died, the 8-year-old Underwood was welcomed into the Hull home and grew close.

“Sally just kind of took me into her family, me and my brother, and helped my father raise me,” Underwood said.

Manners and politeness were expected by Hull, Underwood said, who treated all four children equally.

“She dressed us all alike,” Underwood said. “She took us to a lady that sewed all of our clothes, and she taught us all these songs to sing. We kind of looked like the von Trapp family from ‘Sound of Music.’”

Doctors diagnosed Hull with lung cancer in September and she moved into hospice care months later. As time went on, Underwood said she noticed Hull making plans to tie up any loose ends.

“She was a real OCD kind of person, and she was a bookkeeper,” Underwood said. “The night before she passed away — she was a night owl (and) she would stay up nights doing projects — and she was up half the night balancing her checkbook.”

Another workshop will be held May 7 before the May 28 unveiling ceremony for the family.

Outside of the altruistic angle, the work allows the Georgia Art League members to learn portrait painting and to have a spiritual experience found in the work.

“After you’ve learned someone’s face, every nook and cranny in that face, there’s a connection,” Kennedy said.

Family members, Underwood said, will treasure the portrait of the generous and thoughtful woman who raised her.

“She made a very happy childhood for me, and as I grew up, she was always there for me in times that I needed her. I’ve always been one of her kids,” she said.