Decorah resident Abby Theisen hasn’t let the coronavirus pandemic stifle her creativity.
The 2012 Decorah High School graduate used the months of social distancing to rediscover her love of art and painting. Now, she’s taken a hobby and turned it into a rapidly growing Facebook business.
Reviving her passion
Art has always held a special place in Theisen’s heart. It was her favorite subject as an elementary and middle school student.
“In most classes there is a right or wrong answer but in art anything goes,” Theisen said.
By the time she got to high school, Theisen’s love of art took a backseat to other classes.
“I have to admit that I was pretty intimidated by the requirements of the entry level art class and the amount of talent in each project that was often displayed around my school,” she said. “It’s hard to say if I would have gotten the courage to take the class if it wasn’t for my accident.”
When she was 16 years old in 2010, Theisen was involved in a car accident. She broke her neck and severed her spine, leaving her paralyzed from the neck down.
During her physical therapy following the accident, Theisen rediscovered her love for art.
“I was able to use some adaptive equipment on my arm while I did some arm exercises to
increase strength in my bicep that was slowly returning. That therapy session was a reminder of how much I enjoyed art,” she said.
Unfortunately, Theisen’s muscles began to tighten, making it difficult to paint with her arm. It took 10 years before she picked up a paintbrush again. When COVID-19 took over the country last spring, Theisen realized she needed something to keep her busy while being isolated. She went back to art. She took a mouth stick that she uses to control her electronics and repurposed it to hold her paintbrush.
“I have learned so many life lessons these past ten-plus years, but one of the most important is that I can do anything the ‘normal’ person can do. I just have to adapt and do it differently,” Theisen explained on her Facebook page, Abby Theisen Art.
Finding her niche
As she continued to perfect her craft, she found herself “drowning” in her finished work so she began posting some of her pieces on social media.
“People would frequently ask if I was selling my art. I did sell a handful of pieces before I saw the business opportunity,” she said. “I had a lot of help from friend Taisha (Thornton) Douglas, who is also from Decorah. She and her husband were the ones who created my sunflower wheelchair logo. The sunflower was one of my very first successful paintings. I’m glad that they were able to incorporate that piece into it.”
Once people heard she was selling her work, they started asking for custom items. She said she was getting several inquiries about painting portraits but explained that would be challenging due to the tiny details. She did some research, found a drawing app on her iPad and tested it out by drawing her baby niece. She hopes to eventually add this to her portfolio.
“The response I’ve received has been nothing but incredible. I have had so much support ranging from encouraging words to people purchasing artwork or T-shirts and I’ve received several donations including one from a group of middle school teachers/faculty in Decorah. I’m so thankful for all of it.”
Seeing the dream
In October, Theisen started her Abby Theisen Art Facebook page. It now has over 800 likes and has allowed Theisen to share her talent and cultivate new customers.
“If I’m being completely honest, this experience has been a roller coaster. When I first decided to turn my hobby into a business, I was really nervous. I was nervous I wouldn’t succeed and nobody would like my art. That initial nervousness quickly changed to stress as I received such an outpouring of support and so many requests for paintings. I was unsure how I was going to fulfill every request I received. I’m so lucky that people are patient and understand I’m one person with a very non-functional body. The stress has passed and I have found a great amount of happiness in sharing my art with the world,” she said.
As for how she sees 2021 and beyond, Theisen would like to develop her portfolio further, with digital portraits and to continue to reach more people. However, she also finds comfort in rediscovering her passion.
“My main goal would be to stick to my original goal: bring joy and inspiration to others through my artwork,” she said. “If I’m doing that much, that’s all that matters.”