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SU alum uses art to help victims of bombing

Leigh Ryan PaintingsIn the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing, Leigh Ryan ’11 sat in her Boston apartment, grappling with a range of emotions. Her Boylston Street office, where Ryan worked for a public relations firm called Full and By, was closed with all of Boston on lockdown.

Like so many Bostonians, Ryan wanted to help with the recovery. But how?

“There were so many amazing people making a difference,” she says, “but as a recent college graduate with limited funds, I wasn’t really sure what I could do to aid the efforts.”

Avoiding the television’s constant reminders of the tragedy, Ryan’s eyes turned to her camera phone, where she stored hundreds of pictures. A skilled artist, she’d always planned to paint her favorite images of Boston, but the recent events gave her a true purpose.

Ryan’s paintbrush became her voice, and The Boston Project was born. She painted the boats on the Charles River, Newbury Street, and the Green Line MBTA. She painted iconic landmarks like Trinity Church, Quincy Market, Fenway Park, and the Make Way for Ducklings Statue.

Ryan painted everything she loved about her city—all that made it beautiful, and all that made it strong.

“Doing these paintings was really therapeutic for me during such a crazy time,” she says. “A few paintings turned into 30. I used 24 for my final project, capturing areas all around Boston—not just downtown.”

The paintings didn’t just help Ryan overcome the ugliness of that terrible week—they gave her a personal and profound way to make a difference. Ryan turned them into a series of note cards and began selling them online. Two different sets of “Box of Boston” note cards are available for purchase on Etsy.com. Ryan created prints of some of the paintings too, and she’s donating 10 percent of the proceeds from her sales to the One Fund Boston, to support victims of the bombing.

A native of Wellesley, Massachusetts, Ryan came to Syracuse University to study painting but graduated with a history of art degree and a minor in marketing. “I had a great experience at Syracuse and am thankful for all the opportunities the University gave me. I was able to combine an art degree with business classes, take as many writing classes as I wanted, attend great lectures every week, and study abroad two semesters,” she says. “While some people roll their eyes and scoff at the idea of being an ‘artist,’ I was confident at 22 that I’d able to make things work.”

Since graduating, Ryan has pursued a career combining communications with the fine arts. She completed a museum studies certificate at Tufts University in 2012 and worked in marketing at various Boston-area museums until this past spring.

Today Ryan does contract work in public relations and marketing, and remains an avid painter and illustrator.