Blind artist's vision is to give back
By KAREN MANSFIELD, (Washington) Observer-Reporter
Mar. 10, 2018
CANONSBURG, Pa. (AP) — Artist Diane Krek started going blind more than 25 years ago.
But the Canonsburg woman has not let her visual impairment deter her from helping others through her artwork.
Krek, who worked as a graphic artist before she lost her sight, operates BLT Art for a Cause, and she donates a portion of profits from every print she sells to blind advocacy organizations and other groups.
Last year, she sold 52 prints, and since she launched BLT Art in 2016, Krek has donated to Foundation Fighting Blindness, Pennsylvania Council for the Blind and Lions Club's Leader Dogs for the Blind program.
Each of Krek's paintings includes a bear, a train and a lighthouse, hidden "Where's Waldo"-style somewhere on the canvas.
She includes those objects, which were among her favorite things to look at when she had her sight, for a reason - to make people aware of the gift of good vision.
"I don't want to make (the bears, lighthouses and trains) difficult to find, I want it to be fun. But I do want people to think about what a person with no sight or impaired vision can't see," said Krek. "They would love to see what you can see in the pictures. And, many of the great advancements that have been made in the world wouldn't have been possible without doctors, scientists or engineers with sight."
Krek, 58, remembers being intrigued with art at an early age. Her mother, the late Georgeanne Molnar, was an oil painter, and growing up, Krek experimented with crayon, pastels, pen and ink. She focused on painting seascapes and landscapes, using photos from family vacations and her imagination.
Krek won several art awards and honors at Mt. Lebanon High School.
She studied art at Carnegie-Mellon University and Beaver College in Philadelphia, and earned an associate's degree from Art Institute of Pittsburgh.
By 1990, Krek had established a successful career as a graphic artist with Pittsburgh-area companies, specializing in sign design for hospitals, airports, hotels, cruise ship lines and public transportation.
Around that time, however, Krek began having vision problems.
After Krek failed to see a small group of deer on the road while driving one day and struck one, her mother encouraged her to see a eye specialist.
She was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, an incurable disease that causes the breakdown and loss of cells in the retina.
Her younger brother, Tom, was diagnosed with the disease at the same time, and he lost his eyesight completely before he died in 2013.
Krek, who is legally blind, stopped painting after her diagnosis. Instead, she and her husband, Melvin, who married in 1991, traveled the country in a recreational vehicle, and immersed themselves in outdoor activities: boating, fishing, water skiing, skeet shooting. She played the piano and took up the accordion.
But each year, her vision deteriorated.
"I'd have to readjust every time my sight decreased, and I'd buy new tools, like a talking measuring cup or a talking thermometer, to help," she said.
In 2012, she left her job at Crown Castle USA Inc. in Southpointe because of her failing eyesight.
In 2013, Krek hit a low point, grappling with her brother's death and giving up driving. She wasn't sure how to spend the rest of her life.
After watching a television show in 2014 that featured blind artists, Krek told Melvin she wanted to start painting again.
Said Melvin, "I thought, all right, let's give this a shot."
So, for her birthday, he bought her a set of acrylic paints and canvas. A week later, Krek invited him to the basement, which they had converted into an art studio.
"She had the preliminaries of 'Lighthouse Cove' painted, and I thought, 'How are you doing this?'" said Melvin. "She kept working at it and from there, she went from the next piece to the next piece, and then to the next piece."
Because Krek can barely see what she's painting, her process in unique: She outlines the spatial position of objects on canvas by using colored tape. And because she sometimes has difficulty identifying colors, Melvin helps her mix paint.
Renowned artist James Sulkowski of Canonsburg said Krek's artwork is remarkable, technically and aesthetically.
"What she's been able to do is really astounding," said Sulkowski. "She did a painting of a train, and that was just amazing to me, not only because of how well-drawn it was, but for her to actually put it in perspective the way she did takes extra talent and ability. What an inspiration she is, to me and to anyone."
Currently, Krek has eight paintings available for purchase.
She has sold her prints at craft shows, and plans to sell at art shows this year. Krek also plans to complete a painting of Presque Isle Lighthouse this year to raise funds for restoration of the historic lighthouse, and is earmarking a donation for Washington Area Humane Society.
Krek devotes much of her time to serving the blind community. She is president of the Washington County chapter of Pennsylvania Council of the Blind and a member of Vision Loss Resource Group of Pennsylvania Council of the Blind.
She encourages people not to allow their disabilities to limit them.
"Where there is a will, there is a way," said Krek, who also carries a 130 average in a local bowling league. "Some people feel they don't have a motivation in their lives. But because you have a limitation doesn't mean you can stop going."
Information from: Observer-Reporter, http://www.observer-reporter.com