BY STEPHANIE FARR/DAILY NEWS In her cramped basement, standing at a workbench lit by a single desk lamp, Lizz Brown stares at the picture of the boy who was slain for his dirt bike, the picture of the boy who didn’t get out of the way fast enough, the picture of the boy whose obituary was left blowing in the street.
Then, she paints.
Using only items from her local craft store, Brown, 57, of Northeast Philadelphia, has created more than 200 personalized memorial plaques for families of the city’s dead children.
Brown buys unfinished, precut wood pieces from a craft store. She sifts through the bins of tiny doll-house accessories, looking for miniatures of her subjects’ favorite items. If a boy loved fishing, she’ll search for a tiny fishing pole to glue to the plaque. Sometimes it’s a miniature version of a box of the victim’s favorite cereal or her favorite board game.
With tubed craft paint or wooden letters, she spells out the victim’s name, perhaps the victim’s favorite word or phrase. Sometimes glitter is involved, sometimes it’s not. Brown lets her heart decide those details. But at the center of the plaque is always a picture. It’s where she starts. It’s the face that guides the rest of her creative process, she said.
She began creating the plaques in 2000, when she was moved to action by the stories of senseless deaths she read in the Daily News and the Inquirer. Carefully, she cuts out the pictures of those lost. Intently, she jots down what they loved about life. And prayerfully, she waits for something all artists do — inspiration. “Sometimes it’s 2 or 3 a.m. and I’m in the basement painting. I can’t sleep, it’s just that drive. There’s also a lot of times I come upstairs crying.”
Brown, an emergency-room clerk for 25 years, works at Temple University Hospital ER now. She’s seen many of the people she would end up making plaques for as they were wheeled in. After seven years and more than 200 plaques, Brown said she has received just four “thank you” cards. But she’s OK with that, because, for her, it’s not about thank-yous.
DAILY NEWS: Oh The Humanity