- The Process
A Name to go with a Face
Staff Writer

The mystery of the pastel portrait hanging in Raleigh lawyer Brian Howell's office has been solved.

The girl in the portrait, pictured at age 2, is now 35-year-old mother of three who started a charter school in Chatham County.

Julia-Brent Milholen came forward this week after reading a story in The News & Observer about the portrait - which she didn't even know existed.

"I was shocked," Milholen said of the portrait, which is a duplicate of the one hanging in her mother's dining room. "I never expected this to happen."

Howell had begun searching for the subject after years of wondering what had become of the young girl with the almond-colored eyes. He received the portrait after helping preserve the turn-of-the-century compound where the portrait artist, Isabelle Bowen Henderson, once lived.

Milholen's mother, Harriet Crawford, had Henderson do the portrait in 1965, when Julia-Brent was 2.

The gesture was part of a family tradition. Crawford, her siblings and two of her children all had portraits done by Henderson, a well-known Raleigh portrait artist who was a good friend of Crawford's grandmother.

But when Crawford went to get Julia-Brent's painting framed in Oxford, their hometown, a framer used a spray on the portrait that turned its skin tome a burnt orange.

"When Mrs. Henderson saw that, she said: 'We can't have that.' She just came and did another one," Crawford recalled.

Henderson took back the first portrait but gave the family the new one for free.

"I had no idea it had been saved. Obviously, she just stuck it in a corner somewhere," Crawford said.

Long after Henderson had died, the portrait was given to Howell as a thank-you gesture for his work preserving the Henderson House and Gardens on Oberlin Road, where Henderson did many of her 1,000 portraits.

In the years since the portrait, Milholen went to Meredith College, the to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She started the 150-student Chatham Charter School a few years ago.

She lives in Siler City with her husband and three children, two of whom had portraits done. Her father is a state Rep., James W. Crawford Jr., an Oxford Democrat.

Both Mrs. Crawford and Milholen remember Henderson as a kind woman.

"She had a warm, commanding smile," Mrs. Crawford said. "And she was a little on the bohemian side."

Howell is expected to meet with Milholen and her mother in the next few weeks.

He has offered to give back the portrait, but whther Milholen will take it just yet is up in the air.

"If he wants to keep it until he retires, we want him to do that," Mrs. Crawford said.