Artists Randy and Debra Brienen have returned to Pekin for the Pekin Community High School 1967 Class Reunion and are bringing a bit of Pekin history with them.

Randy Brienen is bringing his painting of PCHS Coach Dawdy Hawkins. Randy was the manager of the 1967 basketball team that won the state title.

The couple will also host an art show, which is open to everyone, from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday at the Mansion on Walnut, 420 Walnut St., Pekin. Many of the paintings are of Pekin landmarks and people of interest.

The history

Debra was a country girl and lived in the Pekin area growing up. Randy was a city boy who grew up in Pekin. Art brought the couple together.

“My mom, when I was 14, wouldn’t bring me to town to see my boyfriend, he was 16, but she would bring me to town to art classes at the YWCA,” said Debra. “And so we both took art classes with Lester Chace every Saturday morning.

“He gave us a really good basis of painting. And we learned later — we didn’t appreciate him, we thought he was an odd little guy — that he was well know, a national portrait artist. I know he did (Sen. Everett) Dirksen for his congressional portraits and some of the presidents.”

Debra became interested in art as a very young child. She said both her mother and Randy’s mother were very artistic and encouraged them.

“I just always knew I had talent, and I always wanted to be an artist,” said Debra. “My mother said, ‘Be a nurse — you can always do art — have a career. And I did nurses training at Methodist School of Nursing, but I didn’t graduate. We decided to get married, because (Randy) was going to Vietnam. He had been in the Eastern Illinois University art program. He was in the draft and had to leave school. We did not return to (art after that).”

Randy said when he left the Army they started raising a family and going about their lives.

“We never really did anything with art,” he said. “Every once and a while, we would sit down and sketch something just for fun, but I always wanted to do something.”

In March 2006, Debra was diagnosed with cancer. Just prior to that, in 2005, she told her children, then grown, to get her art supplies for Christmas. 

“I told my oncologist, ‘I’ve got all of these paintings in my head that I’ve got to release before I face anything permanent,’” said Debra.

Debra spent a year in treatment for the cancer and during that time started painting for all her children. She is now 10 years cancer free.

“Once I started painting,” said Debra, “then the next year he said, ‘You’re having such a good time painting, I think I’ll start painting again.’”

The business

The couple are retired from the careers that supported them for so many years — Randy a fitness trainer and Debra a paint and wallpapering business.

“Now we just do the art mostly,” said Debra. “It is very hard to make a living at art.

“And really, we’ve only made our living the last couple of years, so eight years of building the business. Art — you have to find someone that wants the piece, that needs that size, that has that color scheme and has the money.”

Randy said they are both prolific painters and use acrylic paint for the most part, which “is a pretty fast process.”

“So we have a pretty good inventory and it’s always changing, moving art from location to another just to keep things fresh,” said Randy.

Randy said they do not travel around to a lot of art festivals. Their business plan is for upscale or mid-scale design furniture stores.

“We try to keep up with what’s popular — colors, designs, thematic,” said Randy. “She does quite a bit of commission work. She started a Painted Memories (series), and it turned into people who were moving out of a home or they had a picture of a house they lived in or something. She would do home portraits, (too).”

The theme of her business card is “Capturing your memories on canvas.”

The couple lives in Tallahassee, Florida. Debra was named feature artist of the LeMoyne’s “Chain of Parks” art festival in 2008. She is still an exhibitor there. She was also featured in Home & Design Magazine in 2012. She has received many other honors in her career.

Randy has also been selected to exhibit annually from 2008 thru 2017 at Lemoyne Chain of Parks art festival. He served 2010 through 2012 on LeMoyne Center for the Visual Arts board of directors. He is a past vice president of the Tallahassee Area Watercolor Society. The couple have a permanent exhibit at the Tallahassee Memorial Healthcare Cancer Center. He has many other accolades.

Randy and Debra donate a portion of their art each year to the prevention and treatment of cancer.

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