Walk into most businesses and you are met with a predictable display of benign corporate framings, often selected for their ability to coordinate and blend into passive existence.
Not so at Detroit area personal injury attorneys Christensen Law. In all their offices, visitors are met with bold and bright original works of art – living expressions of the thoughts and emotions of people who share an uncommon thread – surviving traumatic brain injury and other life-changing injuries or disabilities.
Firm founders Dave and Leslie Christensen wanted to support those who are finding a new path forward as they move on from the injuries sustained in debilitating car accidents. Some of the artists are former clients, some are regular visitors to collaborative studios, some are residents in group homes. Many participate regularly in art therapy as an integral component of their recovery plan.
A member of the Board of Trustees of Work Skills Corporation, a 501(c)3 based in Brighton, Dave has long focused on developing vocational and educational opportunities for people with disabilities. Work Skills Corporation offers artists the ability to learn and refine their craft, and then showcase and sell their works through its Studio West Gallery. The entirety of the experience provides a win-win for all involved – artists develop their skills and earn an independent income, while buyers enjoy original works of art created with passion.
Similarly, Dave and the management team of Christensen Law embrace this attitude in all aspects of the company. “Our culture is centered on caring and support – whether it is stewarding the client through every step of their journey, encouraging an employee’s charitable initiative, or proudly celebrating the works of artists with disabilities, we are up for it.”
The latest additions to the Christensen Law Art Collection were recently installed in the firm’s new Detroit office in the historic Ford Building, designed by renowned architect Daniel H. Burnham and once lauded as Detroit’s first real skyscraper and the pride of the city. With its white marble and mahogany walls, the building still retains much of its 20th-century sophistication. “We wanted to bring in some dynamic color and abstract forms to offset the formality of the building’s traditional aesthetic,” said Leslie Christensen, the firm’s de-facto curator.
Works of two artists from The Art Experience in Pontiac (with framing by Posterity Gallery in Grosse Pointe) were selected for the installation. Both long-term Artists in Residence at TAE, another partner provider of rehabilitative art, Tarlton Renard Small and Rachael Kollman are prolific creators, working in distinct methods of watercolor resist and fluid painting.
In Christensen’s Southfield office, nearly every wall and interior office (even the co-ed bathroom!) benefits from the collection, and employees have their favorites. “I’m not entirely sure what it is,” says attorney Deb Tonelli of the diptych opposite her desk, “but the blues and greens swirl like ephemeral underwater currents – and it brings me great joy.”
THE ORIGINS OF THE COLLECTION
At the founding of the firm, Leslie Christensen was on the hunt for art to grace the walls of the new office. It had to be meaningful, relevant to the work, and, ideally, created by artists who were survivors of traumatic brain injury or living with disability. “It was a big challenge,” Leslie remembers. “I wasn’t sure where to begin.”
She reached out to Sherry Allor of Positivity Framing, who had a long history of gallery ownership and working with local artists, to help source and curate a collection. “Sherry said to give her some time, and she would find us the right people.”
That initial outreach led them to The Art Experience. The very first pieces they purchased were created by Small, a gifted painter who cannot speak – his only form of communication and interaction being his art. “His work is dynamic, bold, and perfectly represented both our purpose and the people we strive to assist.”
At about the same time, Dave Christensen began his long-time association with Work Skills Corporation and the Studio West Gallery. As part of its community outreach and fundraising program, the gallery holds an annual “Survive and Thrive” art auction. Leslie and Dave felt this was an ideal opportunity to expand their growing collection and turned it into a firm event. “We asked all the employees to come to the auction and help select which pieces we should buy,” recalls Leslie. With two specific areas in mind, they collectively decided and took home 2 large paintings. “They are a joyful antithesis to the sharp geometry of Renard’s watercolors,” says Leslie. Willowy stands of pink flowers and a large landscape of dancing daisies add delicate color and, most importantly to Leslie, make people happy when they look at them.
The Christensens attend Studio West’s Survive and Thrive auction each year to support the organization, always adding new pieces to the collection. “Artists are given a theme every year,” says Leslie. “As you can see, we have numerous interpretations of the ‘sunflower’ theme throughout the office.”
Especially meaningful is a 3-piece grouping of small abstract acrylics comprised of angel wings and flower petals, sourced whilst on a family trip to Shreveport, Louisiana in 2019. Leslie and her sister found the paintings at Holy Angels, a residential facility for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The AngelWorks Creative Arts Enterprise provides their “Angel Artists” with instructional and free-art opportunities to explore their creativity, and through their gift shop and online, the ability to sell their creations.
Perhaps most reflective of the firm are two pieces she found early on. “I thought they were the perfect embodiment of who our attorneys are,” Leslie recalls. The giclee originals are from a series entitled “Super Shadow” by Indiana artist Jason Ratliff, known for his colorful and positive geometric expressions. “It spoke to me about how our attorneys can be characterized as superheroes going into battle (litigation).” The images resonated with Leslie. She told no one of the acquisition but instead had them installed as a surprise to celebrate their new collective effort – a boy and a girl facing each other, with hero capes flowing behind them – standing together to help people in great need.
Ask her about why and how this effort all began, and Leslie will tell you there was never any choice in the matter. “I can’t live without art; it’s not possible for me.”
View the Christensen Law Art Collection below.