A 2nd Act: Painted Perspective
Melissa Rupoli-Katz didn’t know the title but was immediately drawn to a painting at the inaugural “Hues for Hope” fundraiser. It wasn’t her typical taste in art, being what she describes as Jackson Pollock-like splatters of vibrant colors, but she instantly felt a connection.
The painting is the first piece of art guests see when they enter her Paradise Valley home. On a personal level, the painting holds special meaning for Rupoli-Katz. But for guests intrigued by the colorful art, it’s an opportunity for her to share the story behind the piece and her family friend, Eric Weinbrenner, who painted it.
Weinbrenner was never an artist. But on Nov. 27, 2019, just before Thanksgiving, everything changed. He was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS.
The day after his diagnosis, he turned to painting to cope. “Whenever I am able to throw paint on a canvas, my mind clears and focuses on the piece of work, rather than my disease,” Weinbrenner said.
Commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects the brain cells and spinal cord. It currently has no cure.
“People reading this need to know ALS can happen to anyone,” Weinbrenner said. “I was 49 years old. I was healthy, active and full of life. I have two young kids that I couldn’t wait to watch grow up and learn about the world. I didn’t know what ALS was until I was diagnosed and had no idea how quickly it would change my life.”
As the real estate entrepreneur found healing through his creativity, he achieved something more by helping the 30,000 other people living with ALS, with stories like his.
“ALS creates so many challenges for patients and their families. Not only will you lose complete mobility and your ability to communicate, but you also lose all independence. This means that eventually, you won’t be able to work. It’s an expensive disease, and families are often left in financial debt because of it,” Weinbrenner said.
He and his wife Jennifer founded Paint for a Cure just two months after his diagnosis to support others affected by ALS. Inspired by Eric’s passion for painting, the nonprofit auctions art pieces to raise funds to help “cure” the financial burden of ALS by providing monetary assistance and medically accessible housing for ALS patients and their families.
“Eric and Jennifer have taken the positive of ALS, meaning helping other families,” Rupoli-Katz said. “To see how Eric and Jen have persevered, the dignity and the pride and the drive and motivation, it’s humbling. It really puts things into perspective.”
Though it may have started as a way to support her friend’s cause, the vibrant painting she procured at “Hues for Hope” is a reminder of that perspective when Rupoli-Katz needs it most.
“It’s a grounding piece,” she said. “I don’t even know how to describe it — gives me a little jolt — that things are OK. That’s why I love that painting.”
Contrasting the vibrancy of the first piece, Rupoli-Katz procured a second black and white circular abstract painting at the fundraiser, which she interprets as the circle of life. As with the other piece, she has found significant personal meaning in the monochromatic design. “It’s nice to have that piece in your home and know you did some good,” she said.
Funds from Paint for a Cure go to families with an ALS diagnosis. The work they are doing changes lives, and Rupoli-Katz is honored to participate in some way.
Unfortunately, Weinbrenner can no longer hold a paintbrush, but he now uses his wheelchair and feet as brushes. “I’ll spill paint on a canvas and use my wheelchair as my paintbrush, rolling back and forth over the canvas,” he said. “It’s quite fun and finding creative ways to paint now is part of the enjoyment!”
Just as Weinbrenner has found strength in adapting his creative method, he also has found it in helping others battling ALS. “Living with a terminal disease, you can either let it define you, let it destroy you, or let it strengthen you. I have decided to let ALS strengthen me,” he said. “Paint for a Cure allows me to focus my time and energy on something good and clears my mind of the everyday struggles of living with ALS.”
To learn more, go to paintforacure.org.