Artist’s stroke of inspiration with kids turns summer from gloomy to glorious

By Burt Constable

Faced with what could very well have been a “COVID summer” with isolation, segregation and even some mutual antagonisms, the artist Carol Keene found a way to celebrate a “summer of love” in her Buffalo Grove backyard with a group of neighborhood kids she had never met.

“They love me. I love them,” Keene said of the nearly two dozen young people, ages 6 to 14, many of whom are immigrants, who have formed an incredible bond with the 74-year-old painter, who lived there with her husband. , Bill, since 1979.

Sitting at her window this spring as she recovered from what doctors suspected to be COVID-19, Keene watched the bustling swarm of children biking and scooters and playing in the streets. In today’s modern society, where differences are often used as a rift between people, Keene began to greet Revathy Rajeev, a 12-year-old Indian girl who spent the summer in the house of a aunt who lived on the street. When Keene finally felt healthy enough to venture outside, she introduced herself and said she was an artist. The girl said she wanted to be an artist, and Keene released some of her paintings. Impressed, Revathy called other children, who wanted to know how Keene captured movement and light in a painting of weeds blowing in the wind.


Every summer week, the kids rushed to Carol Keene’s Garden in Buffalo Grove to learn the artist’s painting technique.
-Rick West | Staff photographer

This led to a summer of impromptu art classes, which started in June, was detailed in my first column about the joy of these unexpected, free two-hour gatherings, and has continued weekly until now.

“We’re here to end a summer of painting in my backyard,” Keene tells the children around her. She holds up a 40 inch by 40 inch wooden surface that was once a professional paint until it was thrown in the trash, where Keene saved her and sanded the previous effort to get it ready. to the painting of his children. For the benefit of Daily Herald photographer Rick West and I, Keene created badges for Masha, Rashi, Manal, Jacob, Bhavadharani, Aishwarya, Nethra, Akshar, Anandita, Srimani, Rithvi, Raj, Ankith, Nayak, Kaushal, Rishita , Nitin and more for latecomers who come later.

After the first column on June 27, several strangers who loved what she was doing donated paint, supplies and money to help Keene offset some of the cost of providing brushes, canvas, paint and something much more precious to so many children.

“Carol! Carol! Carol! Excited children scream as they take turns enjoying Keene’s attention. Everyone’s opinion is respected. Everyone has their turn.

Jacob Borkhovik, 9, and Rithvi Battarusetty, 13, paint the green background on which others will paint blades of grass. “Being in person with each other is much better,” says Rithvi.


11-year-old Manal Sultanova sees some of the paintings she and her neighborhood friends painted throughout the summer in sessions led by Carol Keene in her backyard in Buffalo Grove.

11-year-old Manal Sultanova sees some of the paintings she and her neighborhood friends painted throughout the summer in sessions led by Carol Keene in her backyard in Buffalo Grove.
-Rick West | Staff photographer

“I come because I want to see realistic paintings, and the more effort we put in, the more detail we get,” says Jacob.

“Painting just helps you move away from bad thoughts. When you paint, you have a good feeling,” says Rishi Battarusetty, 13, Rithvi’s twin brother.

“I made the heart. I made the heart,” says Nitin Pradeep, 9, who says he would rather paint outdoors with his sister Nethra Pradeep, 6, than be in the interior with youtube videos and computer games.

“They don’t look at gadgets,” says mum Kiruthika Senthilkuma. “After Carol teaches them, they’re very interested. That’s all Carol’s inspiration.”

Over the summer, Keene would post a sign on her window with the abbreviation of the day of the week and a time, and the kids would show up.

“I was riding a bike and friends told me there was an art class,” says Manal Sultanova, 11, whose painting of a moon reflecting on the water was too pretty to be kidnapped in his room. “My mom hung it up in the kitchen.”

Brothers Srimani, 10, and Kaushal Gajula, 6, wait patiently for their turn. “The painting is peaceful. It’s satisfying when you take paint with your brush and cover the canvas,” Srimani says. “Carol teaches us how to paint and what paint to use. She inspires us.”



Some have just started first grade and some have started high school, but almost all of the kids in Carol Keene's neighborhood have spent the summer at impromptu sessions in the artist's garden, learning to paint.

Some have just started first grade and some have started high school, but almost all of the kids in Carol Keene’s neighborhood have spent the summer at impromptu sessions in the artist’s garden, learning to paint.
-Rick West | Staff photographer

And kids inspire Keene.

“It’s just amazing what she did. What’s good is how rewarding it is for both of them,” says Bill Keene, her husband of 41 years. She has two art studios in their home and a website at carolkeene.com.

Children stop hours before lessons, hours after lessons and on days when there are no lessons. “Is Carol home?” ” they ask.

“They trust me. They tell me things. I’ve come to an age of wisdom. I’m like a fairy godmother,” says Carol Keene. The children kiss her. Some parents kiss her.

“It’s amazing. She has a lot of patience,” says mum Lalitha Gajula, as she watches the children buzz around Keene. “They are so happy. They want to spend time painting.”



Another layer of elements is added to a painting as the kids in Carol Keene's neighborhood art class complete their last summer project in Buffalo Grove.

Another layer of elements is added to a painting as the kids in Carol Keene’s neighborhood art class complete their last summer project in Buffalo Grove.
-Rick West | Staff photographer

One of the summer projects was to paint giant M & M’s candies on canvas. “M&M with shadows is stellar, just stellar,” Keene exclaims, acknowledging the kids who say it was their favorite project. “But that’s because you have to eat them afterwards.”

Another time, Keene handed out some smooth rocks and had the kids paint them like ladybugs with spots. They used this skill in the final painting of a large boulder and a few smaller ones adorned with mandalas, which are geometric configurations of symbols. Keene also shows children a color chart, showing which emotions are conveyed by which colors.

Some of the group paintings travel from house to house. Others are kept by the children who painted them. Akshar Cheenepalle, 11, brings a corporate touch to gatherings, sometimes calling “board meetings” to discuss important topics, Keene says. It was during one of these meetings that the children decided to raffle their final painting and donate the money from the sale of tickets to a charity in India that helps children. Keene is hoping someone who knows the best way to do this will email him at [email protected]

Several children must leave before the end of the painting. Keene tells them they can come back another day to add their signatures, which they do. Others say they are sad that the wonderful art-filled summer is over. What will they do?

Keene smiles and says, “You can come back and paint with me when we do pumpkins in October.”

It’s a deal.

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