Karen & Tommy Chittom

Karen and Tommy Chittom

Karen & Tommy Chittom

Why They Give: A Portrait of Foundation Donors

You may have noticed the beautiful, original artwork adorning the collectible holiday cards and ornaments that are available through donations to the Foundation at Christmas.

Karen comes from a long line of artistically inclined individuals. Her grandmother’s parents both had photo studios in Denmark. Her grandmother has photos on display at the Chicago Historical Society. Her father’s father, a physician, had apprenticed to an artist and was a Sunday painter himself. Karen remembers drawing as a child, but began her formal career after earning a degree in the History of Art and Architecture from the University of Illinois, with further study at the Art Institute of Chicago. Early on, she focused primarily on architectural drawings as a builder. But then she moved on to other forms of expression.

"I started working with pastel pencils about eight years ago," reports Karen. "My canvas is sandpaper from France. The coarse paper is perfect for building layers of color, allowing me to create a unique sense of light while accomplishing the fine detail I am driven to due to my architectural background." She defines her style as realistic fantasy; the finished works suggest the "elements of a myth." But Karen also does commissioned portrait work.

"I work only from photographic references," explains Karen. "For my angels, I start with the face of a starlet because of her exquisite bone structure. And I add layers upon that to create the final visage. I guess you could say I start with the starlet’s skull and build on that," she adds with a laugh. Recently she has been able to take her own photographs for reference material with the advent of digital cameras, such as "The Boathouse," her cover art for a thank-you card also used by the Foundation, which she donated.

"Before digital cameras, my eyesight was too poor to focus on the F-stop of a regular camera, much to the disappointment of my grandmother, who hoped I would follow her into photography. As it is, I need a 7X magnification to do my paintings, which is the power of your average binoculars. So I go to the dollar store and buy bags of 3.5 reading glasses and wear two pairs at once while I work."

And these aren’t quickly whipped out pieces of art. According to Karen, a painting can take anywhere from six weeks to a year. "And I put a long time thinking about what I am going to create before I ever put a stroke on the paper," she admits.

So why does Karen put all that time and effort into work and then donate it to the EAMC Foundation? "First," she says, "I am a cancer survivor and understand the need for quality health care. Second, ever since my husband Tommy began working for EAMC in 1999, we have donated to the EAMC Foundation. He and I both believe in it and now with health care under financial siege by the government, the need for a strong Foundation to support quality health care in our area is even more important. A financially strong Foundation bridges the gap between normal hospital revenue, providing the equipment and service growth and the important specially needed services and equipment that just cannot be obtained otherwise. We believe this is a vital service for our community."

Bronze Angel, by Karen Chittom

Bronze Angel, by Karen Chittom, is featured on the 2013 holiday ornament and card to benefit the EAMC Foundation.