Teen's artwork helps mother heal after loss of infant daughter

Jerrica Tietz's “Faith” earned her a trip in June to Washington, D.C., where she got to see her drawing and other entries hanging in the Capitol. From left are Jessica Tietz, Sheryl Tietz, Jerrica Tietz and Jennifer Hallien.


Bancroft, Neb., teenager Jerrica Tietz celebrated the short life of her niece and started a family's healing with “Faith.”

The story of the “Faith” pencil drawing — a tale of three sisters whose names start with “J” and a baby named Faith — tugs at everyone's heartstrings.

Faith, the daughter of Jerrica's oldest sister Jennifer Hallien, was born on April 3, 2012, with a serious heart defect. After a series of surgeries and constant hospitalization, Faith passed away when she was 6 months old.

Although her death wasn't a surprise, it was devastating for the family, said Jennifer, 34, who lives with her husband, Aaron, and their two sons in Washington, Mo.

“Faith” is helping the healing, she said.

“Faith” also earned Jerrica, daughter of Duane and Sheryl Tietz and a junior at Bancroft-Rosalie Public School, a national award. The drawing was named one of three 2013 national winners from Nebraska in the annual Congressional Art Competition.

Congressional Art Competition

Each spring, the Congressional Institute sponsors a nationwide high school visual art competition to recognize and encourage artistic talent in each congressional district.

Since the competition began in 1982, more than 650,000 high school students have participated.

Other 2013 winners from Nebraska and southwest Iowa

» Nebraska Second District, named by Rep. Lee Terry: Oria Simonini, spring graduate of Benson High School, won with "Wet Apple" (View the picture)

» Nebraska Third District, named by Rep. Adrian Smith: Lindsay Warning, a junior at Holdrege High School, won with "Peek-A-Boo" (View the picture)

» Iowa Fourth District, named by Rep. Steve King: Maison Lebeck, spring graduate of Audubon High School, won with "Train" (View the picture)

Jerrica's other sister, Jessica, had begun a tradition of drawing portraits of babies in the family a few years earlier with her renderings of Jennifer's sons, A.J. and Lucas.

Jessica, 19, drew A.J. as a subject for her art class. The Tietz family draws names for Christmas gifts, and Jessica drew Jennifer's name that year. So she gave A.J.'s portrait to her sister as a gift.

Then, when Lucas was born, Jessica said she didn't think it was fair for only A.J. to have a portrait. “I had to draw Lucas too.”

Jennifer kept hinting to Jessica that she would like a portrait of Faith, too.

“But I knew Jerrica had already drawn one” so she kept evading her older sister's hints, Jessica said.

After Faith's death, the Halliens visited the Tietz family in Bancroft. Jessica took Jennifer to the high school to see a display of Jerrica's artwork, which was all laid out in the art room.

All of her work but one drawing, that is.

Jerrica brought out “Faith” separately.

When Jennifer turned around to see what her younger sister had, she was astonished.

“She just started crying,” Jessica said. “She just bawled.”

“My first thought after I stopped crying was, 'I can just reach out and pick her up,' ” Jennifer said. “I had no idea she had done the drawing. It was pretty emotional.”

The tragedy of Faith's short life is a still-healing wound for her mother. You can hear the tears when she talks about her baby and the portrait.

“I'm a scrapbooker,” she said in a more upbeat voice. “And I had lots of photos.”

The scrapbooks and the portrait have played “a huge part of the healing process.”

Healing was one of the reasons Jerrica, who only drew for fun before taking a high school art class, attempted Faith's portrait.

Although Jerrica was named the baby's godmother, she only saw Faith briefly after she was born. The teen never spent time after that with her goddaughter.

“By God's grace she got to see Faith right after she was born,” Jennifer said. Once Faith was moved to a NICU in a St. Louis, Jerrica wasn't allowed in because she was only 15.

“We never got to take her home,” Jennifer said. “Faith stayed in the NICU her entire life.”

Which makes the realistic drawing Jerrica created all the more amazing, she added.

Was it difficult for Jerrica to draw the portrait of Faith?

“A little,” Jerrica admitted.

The drawing shows a lovely baby gazing out at a world she would never know. Jerrica said the Halliens “feel that her eyes follow them when they look at it.”

“I'm sure it's hard for Jennifer to look at,” Jessica said, “but she loves it.”

In a year, “Faith” will become a Hallien family treasure. But for now it's hanging in the U.S. Capitol in Washington.

After its year in Washington, Jerrica will give the portrait to Faith's family.

“I can't wait,” Jennifer said, with another attack of emotion.

By winning the competition, Jerrica received a trip to Washington in June. So she, Jessica, Jennifer and their mother were able to see “Faith” hanging in the Capitol.

They also attended the art competition awards ceremony and got to meet artists from across the country. Although she didn't get to meet the president, Jerrica said she did meet with Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, and she saw a lot of landmarks during her week there.

Jerrica likes to draw, she said, but doesn't see herself pursuing an art career. She wants to become a veterinarian.

As far as her family is concerned, she has fulfilled her artistic promise and “Faith” is one of Jerrica's crowning achievements.

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