Tommy Hollenstein / About
Hollenstein was raised in the San Franando Valley, and while he enjoyed outdoor activities, he also dreamed of becoming an artist one day. That is, until a mountain bike accident in 1985 left him with a broken neck and a life relegated to a wheelchair. Spinal cord injury groups tried to facilitate his desire to paint. Tommy hated the confinement of a mouth stick, it was “too restraining” he said, and his childhood dream seemed destined to be just that, a dream.
Two years after his accident, he received his first service dog, a yellow Labrador named Weaver. “Weaver was the one who gave me back my independence and gave me the confidence to move into my own apartment,” says Hollenstein. “The bond between the dog and I was just phenomenal, and as he started to get older, I really wanted to have something as a memory of him on my wall other then a photograph. So I kept thinking that someday I’m gonna roll through paint and have him walk through the same paint. It’ll be like tire tracks and paw prints.”
Weaver not only became this man’s “best friend”, but also brought hope and inspiration back into Tommy’s life. Using non-toxic paint, which was safe for Weaver’s paws, he had assistants apply paint to the dog as well as the wheels of his chair. Weaver inspired Tommy to begin to paint, and the future began to look brighter. Hollenstein is slow and deliberate in his painting. After an assistant primes a board with a base color, Tommy may apply as many as 50 coats of paint before he feels satisfied. “I just keep working it,” he says. “As each piece speaks to me, I keep on working the paint. It’s like dancing as I spin back and forth and slide the tires. It’s probably the time I feel the most freedom in my chair.”
Tommy Hollenstein has shown and sold his artwork in galleries all around the world. He names each with a solitary word such as “Expect,” “Soar,” or “Beyond.” “I want people to go get a positive feeling, to move,” says Tommy.