Painting with a purpose: Rockland woman overcomes obstacles to create art

With the gentle stroke of a paintbrush and a gaze of concentration, a blank canvas is brought to life.

ROCKLAND, Wis. (WKBT)- You’ve heard the saying, “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”

For a Rockland woman, the phrase couldn’t be more true.

With the gentle stroke of a paintbrush and a gaze of concentration, a blank canvas is brought to life.

A picture is taking shape where what you see, isn’t always what it seems.

The artist behind the easel is 27-year-old Abby Theisen whose life has been anything but the serene landscapes she often paints.

“I think we hit 75 mph when the car was ejected off the top of a hill. It landed in a ravine right where I was sitting in the back seat.”

Abby was just 16 years old when she got into a car with 3 other friends. They decided to drive down a country road in her hometown of Decorah. It nearly ended in tragedy.

“So ultimately, my head was crushed between the top of the seat and the car. I couldn’t move. I physically felt my neck break. My spinal cord was completely severed.”

The crash changed Abby’s life, forever.

“After I woke up from surgery, I realized everything was different and things were much more serious than I initially thought. I flat out told them that I don’t want to live if it meant being paralyzed from the neck down.”

For the next several years, Abby grieved what should’ve been. “It crushed me. It was hard and it took me years to accept the fact that I’d be paralyzed the rest of my life.”

“I wanted to be a nurse, work with pediatric children, I had the dream of walking down the aisle someday.”

Dreams were crushed, but hope was not completely lost. Abby wasn’t about to let her newfound disability limit her ability to find joy in life again.

“I figured out a way to make it where I could paint.”

” Whenever I get overwhelmed, putting it on canvas, on a piece of paper has been really helpful. It kind of lets me escape my mind for a little bit.”

Using a specialized mouthpiece, painting became Abby’s pandemic pastime.

“A lot of muscle in my jaw. It’s kind of my therapy in a way.”

She even created her own Facebook page after getting so many requests for her work.

“At first there was a little bit of pressure there meeting everybody’s satisfaction and approval.”

But beyond her artwork, there are little life lessons that keep her going.

“I also tell myself a lot of times, it’s just a bad day, it’s not a bad life.”

” Life is always changing and you know we’re built to adapt to changes, sometimes it can be really hard, But I’ve found the strength, most anybody can.”

Abby may have had to cancel that picture in her head of what life was supposed to look like.

“I am happy. I didn’t think that was going to be possible.”

“I grieved for a long time, probably a good 5 years. I wished my wheelchair away. I just wanted to be normal.”

But every picture tells a story, and Abby’s is just getting started.

“I think the future has endless opportunities.”

“As crazy as it sounds, I wouldn’t really change anything if I was given the opportunity. I think it’s made me a better person all around. It’s taught me to fight and you know it’s possible to get through hard things.”

Unfortunately, Abby has been dealing with a lot of complex health issues as of late so she’s not able to paint as much as she would like.

You can check out her Facebook page: “Abby Theisen Art.”

There’s also a Gofundme set up to get Abby a new van to help get her to and from her hospital stays and doctor appointments.