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Rising Stars: Meet Christine Ilewski Huelsmann

Today we’d like to introduce you to Christine Ilewski Huelsmann. 

Hi Christine, so excited to have you with us today. What can you tell us about your story?
I’ve always used art to process my world but I never colored inside the lines. 

I remember being given a coloring book page to complete and enter in a contest. I took my Elmers glue and all kinds of different papers, sequins, cotton balls, threads and glued them to the coloring book page. I love pigments but also the feel and textures of found objects. 

In both my own work and the FNF project, I often use found materials. I like the way we leave a piece of ourselves on the things we touch and the narrative that creates. In the FNF projects, the portraits are displayed against vintage handkerchief patterns, symbolic of a mother’s grief. The first copies used actual vintage hankies. 

I’m also a storyteller. I’ve kept a journal/sketchbook as long as I can remember. I worked on the Kirkwood HS yearbook, the Pioneer during the late 70s when the Watergate scandal had a profound impact on young journalists. We were very excited to do investigative reporting in search of the “truth”. 

After high school, I continued to write feature articles for small newspapers in the Midwest and California. But I became disillusioned by the complexities of seeking facts and realized that everyone has their own “truth”. 

Responding to a tragedy in my own life, I found my way to fiction and narrative mixed media paintings to express my own reality. I found comfort in art. 

I feel that art can have a profound effect on people finding their own reflection in it. It has the power to shift our social consciousness through empathy. 

Today I do both my own painting and mixed media work as well as running the Faces not Forgotten project. In my mixed media paintings, I tell stories of my own experience as a woman, a wife, mother, daughter, sister. I also paint lush loose landscapes reflecting the ancient moods of the Mississippi River I live on. And I created/ direct the FNF project, national portraits of young gun violence victims given to their families for comfort and exhibited to raise awareness of this horrific loss. 

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
There have been struggles and loss. No life is without some. The loss of my dad to suicide when I was only 21 shaped a lot of who I am. The loss of another close friend and civil rights activist in 2009, Fr. Larry Rosebaugh, OMI, from STL inspired me to create the FNF project. Funding is probably my biggest constant obstacle now. We never ask our families to contribute to FNF, so we are always seeking sponsorship of this memorial project. I would love to pay our artists more than a small stipend for materials and postage. I have dreams of a more permanent form of the FNF Quilts as a Memorial installation but this requires serious sponsorship. 

I am so grateful to have had the means to express my grief through my art. It has given me great comfort. 

Thanks – so what else should our readers know about your work and what you’re currently focused on?
I wear a number of hats 🙂 I am an artist first and an educator. I am known for my paintings, mixed media narratives of a private feminine perspective, and landscapes of the MS River I live on, which I’ve exhibited for nearly 40 years now. Currently, I have a mixed media collage in the Cedarhurst Biennial at the Mt. Vernon Mitchell Museum and a landscape in my gallery, Arionante, New Orlean, LA. 

But in 2010, I founded Faces Not Forgotten, a social justice art project devoted to giving comfort to families who have lost a child to gun violence with a hand-painted portrait and then exhibiting copies of these portraits as the FNF Quilts, to raise awareness of this devastating loss to our society. I’m so proud of the many artists who have helped me donate over 300 portraits to these victims‘ families. We have hung numerous universities exhibits nationally in an attempt to educate this next generation on this issue because we lose on average 8 CHILDREN A DAY, under 21, to gun violence in the US. This is unfathomable to me. We currently have two large exhibits of the FNF Quilts hung at Lindenwood Univ., St. Charles, MO, and IUPUI in Indianapolis, IN. We try to exhibit the FNF quilts continuously in our promise to the victims’ families that their child be NOT Forgotten. From Lindenwood, the St. Louis FNF Quilts will go to the downtown STL Central Library Atrium gallery. 

As an educator, I have taught art workshops for university art students for over 20 years through the art materials company ColArt. This position allowed me to meet talented artists and faculty that I have worked with to expand the FNF project nationally. These fellow artists have jumped on the bandwagon of this project to raise awareness and help me complete portraits for families in 19 states thus far. 

And when I am tired and too sad from the reality of the FNF project I retreat to my own studio where I focus on color and space and beauty in nature, specifically the Bluffs and low lands of the Mississippi river I live on. 

Who else deserves credit in your story?
Jane Linders, local artist/photographer and the FNF board president who has been beside me throughout the years nearly from the beginning of the project. Without Jane, FNF would not be what it is today. And the over 250 artists that have donated their talent to create an FNF portrait of a young gun violence victim for that child’s family; a selfless act of love. Some have donated multiple portraits! Patti Hornberger, Peter Andrew, Sarah Kaiser, Jane Martin. And I am grateful to Anders Shafer and Ahzad Bogosian who encouraged me to just paint. 

Contact Info:

Image Credits

Lindenwood Univ.
John Troy
Vickie French Bennington

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