Jeff Hanson didn’t find art until a rare genetic disorder manifested itself in the form of a tumor on his optic nerve and robbed him of most of his vision.
Now the legally blind 22-year-old Overland Park native has a thriving art business that has generated $1.3 million dollars to date for charity.
Hanson was at Kansas Speedway on Sunday, being honored as one of four finalists for the NASCAR Foundation’s Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award, presented by Nationwide.
Fans can vote for Hanson at nascar.com/award through Dec. 3. Hanson is competing on behalf of the Children’s Tumor Foundation. The winner will receive $100,000 for his or her chosen charity, as well as a 2016 Ford Fusion. The other three finalists will be awarded $25,000.
“If I win, there’s a donor that will match the $100,000, which I will give to the Children’s Tumor Foundation, and I will also win a car if I win. I’ll probably put a wrap on the car and raffle it,” Hanson said.
Hanson started painting watercolor notecards in 2005 as a therapeutic way to cope with the rigors of chemotherapy.
“It was just something to do when friends would come over to see me,” Hanson said. “It was a happy activity.”
That soon blossomed into acrylic paint on canvas. Hanson’s style is bright and bold, in both color and texture — a style that pops for those with limited vision.
“What inspires me is when we’ve done family vacations and travel is 95 percent of inspiration, like a poppy field in Tuscany,” Hanson said.
Hanson said it takes approximately eight weeks to go from inspiration to finished painting, and he has 1,800 canvases to his credit already.
He’s also been an inspiration to an A-list of celebrities.
“Some of the people are Elton John, Billy Joel, Warren Buffett, Susan Sarandon, and Olivia Wilde. And I just did one for (professional wrestler) John Cena,” Hanson said.
Hanson soon hopes to add some six-figure donations to the Children’s Tumor Foundation. In the meantime you can find him in the studio, bringing blank canvases to life with bright splashes of color and inspiring those affected like him.
“I think it helps them to be happy or smile when they see my art,” Nelson said.