One after another, six special children and their families gasped in gleeful awe as the childrens' portraits, painted by artists from photographs, were revealed at a reception Sept. 12 at the Belfair Clubhouse in Bluffton.
Chloe Bredeson of Bluffton was one of the children to receive a fine art painting; hers was painted by Bluffton artist Luz Celeste-Figueroa. Her jaw dropped when she first saw it. "It's pretty cool," said the 13-year-old middle school student.
Other recipients came from across Beaufort and Jasper counties. The artists were all from Beaufort County. Gideon was painted by Mickey Boisvert of Bluffton; Aalyah was portrayed by Nahtalia Roca of Bluffton; Kaleigh was captured by Mary Segars of Beaufort; Charlie's portrait was done by Leslie Dyas of Bluffton; and Aljaray's portrait was painted by Kristen Eisenbraun of Travelers Rest.
The event was presented by Portrait Connection, a national nonprofit organization based in Oregon, but with South Carolina ties. The parents of Elaine Eisenbraun, founder of the organization and mother of Kristen, said her parents live in Belfair.
Eisenbraun said the idea of giving the portraits is to bring a little joy and beauty to families who must navigate life with their children's health issues at the forefront.
"These families struggle with so much," Elaine said. "We just want to give these joyful portraits to offer a sanctuary of peace, joy and hope as they go through tough times."
The organization asks selected families to send photographs of their children, choosing those that depict happy, beautiful kids. Each artist chooses one photograph as a reference for a painting.
The one requirement is that the portrait shows a happy child. "We want children to look into that portrait and see themselves as beautiful rather than sick," Elaine said.
The local families were recommended by agencies who serve the families. The Ronald McDonald House in Charleston nominated Chloe.
Eisenbraun said the idea for gifting the portraits for children with medical issues began when some close family friends, who had two children with cystic fibrosis, moved out of the neighborhood. Her family wanted to give the other family a memorable gift, and came up with the idea of a fine art portrait, painted with love.
The painting was well-received. The children's mother later said she hung it where she could see it first thing every morning, and "It gives me strength to get through my day."
That first portrait was the just the beginning. Eisenbraun and her daughter Laura founded the nonprofit organization to continue offering the fine art paintings to children around the country. Kristen has painted a number of portraits of young subjects.
So far, portraits have been presented in six states. The recent presentation was the first in South Carolina. Later this season, portraits will be presented in Minnesota and Kentucky.
There is no cost to the families for the portraits. The artists do receive a stipend. "That's important to us," Elaine said. Local framers Four Corners, The Great FrameUp and Camellia Art provided framing.
For more information, visit portraitconnection.org.