Tom Hollenstein's Story

  • Sept. 19, 2018
  • #9493

Though wheelchair-bound, Tommy is able to create his unusual art to glorify God, and inspire and encourage others.

I paint with my mouth, but I know someone who paints with his wheelchair.       

Hi, I’m Joni Eareckson Tada and, yes, because I'm a quadriplegic I paint holding brushes between my teeth, but I have a friend who is also a quadriplegic, and he paints using the tires of his wheelchair. His name is Tommy Hollenstein and he broke his neck years ago in a motorcycle accident. My friendship with Tommy goes back almost 40 years, and we’ve always been inspired by each other. I know I get inspired whenever I watch Tom do one of his amazing paintings, using his wheelchair. It is so cool to watch him!

This is what he does: He has a friend spread out a big canvas on a warehouse floor, then he lines up all kinds of colorful cans of paint. As Tommy sits there in his wheelchair, he kind of eyes the various colors and the large canvas; you can just see him imagining a design, his next steps. After a while he’ll direct his assistant to pour a little paint here in this corner, and a little there, a different color here, and another one next to it, and so on. Then Tommy slowly powers his wheelchair onto the canvas, turning his wheels this way and that to achieve a certain effect as he smears the paint and creates these wild and whimsical swatches of color. Sometimes he’ll even invite his service dog to come on to the canvas with him, his dog’s paws pick up color and before you know it that big dog has lent little touches, little spots and splotches of green or pink here and there. Sweeping his wheelchair across the canvas, coming to a slide-stop on the wet paint, or turning and twisting his wheels creates this incredible array of beautifully blended colors, all to the delight of the viewer. I think his paintings are fabulous and I’ve posted a couple of photos today on showing Tommy painting, as well as one of his finished and framed paintings that we have hung on a wall here at our International Disability Center. You just have to see this guy at work!

You also have to know that Tommy enjoys doing his art to the glory of God; he especially enjoys inspiring others to use their gifts. Just like 1 Peter Chapter 4 says, “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms.” Sure, Tommy’s gift of service to others is a little unusual, but he is unique. He illustrates the point behind Romans Chapter 12 verse 4 where it says, “Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.” It’s true! Whenever people look at Tommy and his unusual artwork, they are keenly reminded not to neglect their own gifts, however unique or unusual. For we all should use our gifts to serve others, just like Tommy does in his wheelchair. It’s an inspiring example of perseverance, not only to me his fellow artist, but to everyone who looks on.  

And speaking of art and painting, I want you to get in on the inspiration. I’d like to serve you today by giving you a free gift of my artwork. It’s a box of my photo-insert Christmas cards. I think this photo-insert card is especially personal because it is a chance for you and me together to greet your friends at Christmas – me with my painting and you with your family photo. The painting on the card is one of my favorite Christmas designs that I rendered using brushes between my teeth. The card has a place where you can insert a family photo. And oh my goodness, I would be honored if you would use these cards this coming Christmas season to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ with your friends. It’s a free gift and it’s yours for the asking at

© Joni and Friends



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