So much can be told from the look on someone’s face if we take the time to do more than glance at them.
Etched into the lines around their eyes and mouth often are the silent stories of their lives.
Artist Pam Ingalls’ show, “Facing the New US — Portraits of Refugees and Immigrants,” runs through Aug. 12 at Cole Gallery in Edmonds. It invites the viewer to imagine some of what the people in those portraits have experienced.
The group of 30 paintings portrays refugees from around the world, including Burma, Syria, Central African Republic, Eritrea, Congo and Mexico.
Ingalls, a painter who lives on Vashon Island, may be best known locally for her series “Faces of Edmonds,” portraying both ordinary and well-known local people, It was displayed at Cole Gallery last year.
Her interest in doing portraits of immigrants and refugees arose during a visit last year with a friend who teaches English at the Chicago-based nonprofit Heartland Alliance. The group provides housing, health care and job assistance to low-income individuals and families.
After hearing her friend talk of the people she had met in her work with immigrants and refugees, and that the refugee center needed some upgrades, Ingalls thought: “I have an idea.”
In January, she visited a immigrant and refugee center in Chicago, where people were asked if they would like to have her paint their portrait.
“That was a little difficult,” Ingalls said. There were at least eight different languages and some dialects as well. Sometimes the message of what she was trying to do had to be translated twice.
Those agreeing to participate were given a print of their portraits. When the portraits sell, the subjects and the nonprofit get a portion of the proceeds.
Ingalls did short interviews with each person and made videos of the conversations, capturing their reactions as they described events in their lives. Those video moments, which Ingalls could pause and review when she came home to paint, inspired each portrait.
One of those stories was of Joseph, a man from Congo. His family escaped their village and were forced to split up. The father took two of their daughters and his wife the other three. They lost each other and had been out of contact for a dozen years.
Shortly after Ingalls met him, he said he finally had been able to contact his wife on the phone. “He said it was the first time he had slept through the night in 12 years,” Ingalls said.
The portraits were displayed in a show at the Chicago refugee center last month.
“I love to paint people,” Ingalls said. “They were gorgeous. Every single one was so wonderful to paint.”
Edmonds gallery owner Denise Cole previously had met Ingalls at workshops taught by the artist. Earlier this year, Ingalls told Cole about her project.
Although the timing was tight to get the portraits shipped from Chicago to Edmonds — they just arrived Tuesday morning — Cole made plans for the works to be exhibited at her gallery.
From the original group of 45 portraits, Cole selected 30 to be displayed in the Edmonds show. “I wanted to select paintings that represented a range of different countries, ages and personalities,” she said.
The portraits will be for sale at prices ranging from $600 to $2,300. Short summaries of each person’s story will be posted.
Ingalls has done a number of shows featuring portraits of people, Cole said. “But she’s never done a show like this where it’s people from around the world.”
The painting of portraits used to be reserved for only the very wealthy and the gentry, Cole said.
“I love that Pam just wanted to tell the stories of refugees and acknowledge their humanity in such a beautiful way.”
Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486 or firstname.lastname@example.org
If you go
“Facing the New US — Portraits of Refugees and Immigrants” by Pam Ingalls is on display from through Aug. 12 at the Cole Gallery, 107 Fifth Ave. S. in Edmonds.The gallery is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and noon to 3 p.m. Sundays; 425-697-2787. More at www.colegallery.net.