Lasting Legacies Through Art

“It’s a brain tumor.” These are words no one wants to hear. Yet they’re words that forever circle back unsummoned for Bend sculptor Kelly Thiel, and Rachell and Kevin Cook.

Thiel lost her mother, who was also her partner in crafting functional pottery, to brain tumors in 2009. The event affected her so deeply that she gave up her craft for many years. When she returned to it, she found herself drawn to clay for developing figures that could tell stories—“Personal stories that could be passed on as ancestors leave us,” Thiel explains.

The Cooks face the reality of a brain tumor in their five-year-old daughter, Kinsley. Diagnosed at nine months of age, Kinsley has endured numerous surgeries, chemotherapy treatments and the loss of her sight. Their battle includes monthly—sometimes weekly—visits to Portland’s Doernbecher Children’s Hospital which takes a toll on a family already walking a tightrope of mortality with their little girl.

Their stories merged when last fall, Thiel got a call from Elaine Eisenbraun, co-founder with her daughter Laura of Portrait Connection, a nonprofit that pairs artists with families of children with serious medical conditions to provide lasting memories. Eisenbraun explained that while they normally paired children with portrait painters, Kinsley had lost her sight. She asked, would Thiel be interested in doing a sculpture so Kinsley would be able to “see” it too?  “The universe was saying, ‘yes’,” Thiel is sure.

Eisenbraun was prompted to start Portrait Connection in 2017 by the struggles of a neighbor family who had two children living with critical illness. “I wondered how to do something meaningful and thought of the capacity of art to be long lasting radiance that can shine for people for multi-generations,” Eisenbraun says.

The Cook family and Thiel will meet for the first time at Portrait Connection’s inaugural event in downtown Bend. Coming full circle, and staying close to the heart, Thiel’s carefully-crafted and emotionally-charged sculpture will be revealed to the Cooks and “seen” by Kinsley for the first time on this special night.

1000 NW Wall Street 
Suite 110, Bend

PULL OUT: Portrait Connections ‘unveiling’ event will be held April 6th at Layor Art + Supply. Open to the public, the evening is designed for 15 regional artists to unveil their portraits and meet their subjects and families. This event is the first of what Portrait Connection hopes to duplicate in other parts of the country.