HILLSBOROUGH: Teen captures O’Hara’s sparkle

Ex-footballer’s portrait joins growing gallery

By Gene Robbins, Managing Editor
   Pro football might have been holding the second round of its annual draft of college players Friday night, but NFL Network analyst Shaun O’Hara knew where he wanted to be.
   It was in Hillsborough, his former hometown, which was honoring him at the annual fine art and photography exhibit as the fifth inductee into its portrait gallery of local heroes.
   Mr. O’Hara stood by as high school artist Jackie Lin pulled the black draping from an oil painting that showed him standing in front of a New York Giants logo, his hand on top of a Super Bowl trophy.
   Mr. O’Hara said he was “in awe” of the work, which he was seeing for the first time.
   Mr. O’Hara played pro ball for 11 years and is most well known as a center on the Giants, including the world championship team in 2008.
   The 1995 Hillsborough High School graduate, who attended and played at Rutgers University, more recently has been involved with a foundation in his name. He and his wife, Amy, launched the foundation in 2009 to increase knowledge and education for life-threatening diseases for which there is limited funding.
   The football metaphor, HIKE, lies hidden in the name — Helping to Increase Knowledge and Education.
   In March 2009, he was honored by the American Ireland Fund as one of today’s most successful and noted Irish Americans.
   Ms. O’Hara accompanied her husband to Friday’s unveiling and art exhibit. They are expecting their first child around Memorial Day.
   The exhibit and the idea of building a collection of notable township people is the brainchild of Kevin Murphy, a township resident, portrait painter and art teacher.
   He painted and donated the first portrait, that of former mayor and Assemblyman Peter J. Biondi, but since then has taken on a high school student apprentice for a year’s training, leading to the youngster painting that year’s portrait for the collection.
   This year, Jackie Lin, a Bridgewater resident, was the artist. She was given a $1,000 honorarium, which only compensates her a bit. Her painting joins those of other historic notables: Mr. Biondi, philanthropist Doris Duke, Olympic runner Joetta Clark Diggs and Anna Case, a noted opera singer of 100 years ago.
   Mr. O’Hara, now a resident of Franklin Lakes, said he was honored to think his likeness would grace the halls of the municipal complex. He had only been in the courtroom one time — for a traffic violation as a youngster. It hadn’t been too many years he was running around the township as an athlete and teenager, he said.
   He said he had looked up the definition of artist and found it was someone who brings sensitivity and imagination to their work. He added more.
   ”Something I admire most in people is doing something with passion,” he said. “When I walk around this room and look at the art and photographs, that, to me, is passion.”
   He added, “Jackie spent 100 hours on this portrait. That to me is passion.”
   And since her mom had to drive her to the art academy, that was passion, too, he said.
   As for the artist, Ms. Lin said she preferred to “let her work speak for herself.” She said she admired Mr. Murphy’s dedication and his openness. He was always there, and the studio and artists became like family, she said.
   She began the painting in the third week in March and finished it only Tuesday, three days previous. Mr. Murphy commended her patience and focus.
   ”She can sit for hours and work and not be distracted by anything,” he said. ‘She takes direction well, and you can’t do this type of work if you are not a thoughtful person.”
   Ms. Lin is bound for Columbia University in the fall where she intends to study biomedical engineering — with art always there as a backup, she said.