“I painted. It made me feel better. I thought it would help others.”
So began Jeff Sparr’s journey, creating peace of mind through expressive arts and story telling.
I met Jeff when we were 12, both junior tennis players in the New England area. Life took us our separate ways but when our paths crossed 40 years later, the man I met once again was a family man, a self-taught artist, and a teacher.
I met a man on a mission, dedicated to helping people manage the often debilitating symptoms of mental illness. Above all, Sparr is a survivor; he has battled obsessive-compulsive disorder much of his life.
“It was like discovering a superpower, The discovery changed the course of my life. Once I started, I haven’t stopped painting since,” he said.
It almost never happened. Struggling with the crippling effects of his OCD, Sparr was on the phone with a friend who, in passing, suggested he try painting. “When you’re desperate, you’ll try anything,” Sparr said.
Jeff turned his car around, gathered up all the paint supplies he could and immediately went home to try his hand. “Little did I know I’d be good at it. But more importantly, it dramatically subdued my OCD symptoms,” he said.
That was over 20 years ago. Fast forward to 2009. On a whim, Sparr and his cousin purchased some art supplies and headed to the children’s intensive treatment wing at their local hospital. It was a hospital in which Sparr had himself been a patient. He shared his story and struggles and challenged the kids to paint whatever gave them peace of mind. They not only found the experience enjoyable, they were able to communicate their internal struggles in ways they never could before. In that moment came the inspiration for PeaceLove.org.
Since 2009, PeaceLove.org has reached over 40,000 people spanning diverse communities. Sparr says participants unilaterally experience improved mental wellness, as they learn new tools to communicate about mental health.
Earlier this year, Sparr’s work caught the attention of Mary Heath, chief marketing officer of the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, Rhode Island. Sparr quickly was commissioned to do a series of limited-edition pieces for the Hall’s Class of 2017: Andy Roddick, Kim Clijsters, and Paralympian Monique Kalkman-Van den Bosch.
Through his tennis and New England roots, Sparr has developed a friendship with the late Bud Collins, a 1994 inductee. “He was the first person to take my art seriously, always inspiring me to keep pushing forward on this new journey,” he said.
Sparr produced a limited-edition portrait of Collins for the Hall.
PeaceLove.org is expanding across the nation, and there are global expansion opportunities in the works.
There is a power that comes from a person taking ownership of his life. Sparr has done just that. And in order to keep his rare gift, he is committed to giving it away.
“I create peace of mind,” Sparr said, summing up his vocation in just a few words.