Where does an artist find inspiration? For some, it comes from nature. For others, it comes from a poem or music. For Eila Grahn and Len Bielefeldt, inspiration rose from the depths of tragedy.
Both artists suffered injuries that occurred after being involved in traffic accidents. Both admit to being inspired as artists after the accidents.
Grahn has been an artist since she was a child.
"It all started when I hid in my closet at night with a box of crayons and colored the entire wall, because the coloring book just wasn't big enough," she said. "When my mother found me the next morning, sleeping next to my creation, she just smiled. That was the start of it all. That smile of art appreciation. I have since done many murals and love to do big art, the bigger the better."
Even though Grahn had studied art, she pursued a career as a photographer because she felt there would be more work opportunities. She continued to create art working in a variety of media. The car accident in 2007 changed everything.
"I suffered a concussion in the accident and an injury to the brain that resulted in seizures that still continue," she said. "When I lost consciousness, I would see images that I would remember after coming out of it."
After spending four months at Marianjoy, she returned home to her paint brush and a new style of painting. Her style became more abstract as she began to paint the images that she would see.
She became known as the Unconscious Artist for the vibrantly colored, swirling images that she created on her canvas.
"For people like me who have suffered an injury, having a creative outlet can be comforting," she said.
Len Bielefeldt also started painting as a child.
"I loved art," said Bielefeldt. "When I was 12, my mother signed me up for private lessons with Jack Bond, a local artist, who taught art classes in his studio. I rode my bike 15 miles just to get to the Saturday morning class and I loved it."
The class was an adult class but that didn't bother the young budding artist. His passion and love for painting grew.
He became a portrait artist because it was a way to make a living. It was his life's work for more than 25 years. That changed when he was involved in an accident in 2009.
Bielefeldt had spinal injuries that resulted in surgery. When he had the surgery, the doctors found that he had a neck fracture as well. For four months he was down and unable to paint.
When he returned to the art he loved, he found a new passion. He saw new beauty in the landscape around him and began to paint scenes of the Fox Valley.
"I found that instead of focusing on a landscape with a pond, I would look at the ripples in the water and want to paint that. My style began to change," he added.
He began to see things differently in life as well. A devoted and loving father, his schedule included waking at 2:45 a.m. to drive to St. Charles to be able to take care of his son when his former wife left for work at an early morning job in Chicago. It was a schedule that was demanding but one that he dutifully accepted.
"After the accident, I found that I looked forward to that time in the early morning," he said. "To have that time with my son is such a gift."
While convalescing, Bielefeldt found a new appreciation for opera. He began to study some of his favorite composers and do their portraits.
"I wanted to capture the essence of their struggles, of who they were in their portraits," he added.
He hopes to one day sell the collection to an opera company or opera enthusiast.
"I also wanted to do something with my art that could help someone," he said. "That's when I decided to do the Santa portrait."
The large Santa painting hangs in the Morrison Galleries, 223 W. State St., Geneva and is valued at $5,000. It is being auctioned off to benefit the Paul Ruby Foundation for Parkinson's Research.
"Paul is such a wonderful man and I can't imagine what he has to go through dealing with Parkinson's disease," said Bielefeldt.
Opening bid for the Santa painting is $1,000 and bidding ends at 5 p.m. Friday, Dec. 17, according to Dawn Vogelsberg, executive director of the Paul Ruby Foundation. Bidding can be e-mailed to info@Paulrubyfoundation.org and bidders will be continually updated of the progress of the bidding.
The one-of-a-kind Santa painting will be the first in an annual series that Len Bielefeldt is planning to donate to the foundation.
"I've always painted from the heart," said Bielefeldt. "This image of Santa is filled with love and compassion."
The foundation is very appreciative of all of Len Bielefeldt's effort.
"The Santa painting is such a wonderful gift. When you drive down State Street and you see it in the window of the gallery, it just grabs you," Vogelsberg said. "Len is such an amazing talent and has such a giving heart."
These two Batavia artists have an appreciation for art and an appreciation for life. Thankfully, they continue to share their work for all those who love art.