Jeff Hanson’s ties to Coca-Cola are deep, loyal and, now it seems, serendipitous.
When he opened an IRA at age 14, the first stock he purchased was Coca-Cola. As a teenager, he started refusing to eat at restaurants that didn’t serve Coke products. And he counts among his friends Warren Buffett, the legendary investor and former Coca-Cola board member who also owns shares of KO, albeit on a slightly larger scale.
So it’s hardly surprising that Hanson once again finds himself intertwined with Coca-Cola. At age 22, the nationally known artist recently was commissioned to create an original work of art that will help raise funds for Ronald McDonald House in the U.S. and Canada.
Hanson – a visually impaired, self-taught artist who learned to paint at age 12 as a way to lift his spirits – is the 2016 Coca-Cola Ronald McDonald House Charities Art Partner. At the age of 11, he was diagnosed with a genetic condition called neurofibromatosis that caused an optic nerve tumor and threatened to leave him totally blind. He underwent five months of chemotherapy and six weeks of radiation. He survived but his vision was forever marred.
Painting, Hanson says, “was a germfree activity I could enjoy with friends and family at the house.”
“It was a good way for me to keep my mind off what I was going through,” he adds.
Hanson began to paint watercolors on note cards and sell them from a card table in his driveway. Much to his surprise, his artwork was extremely popular. He eventually raised $15,000, then did something few others would: he donated all his profits to the Children’s Tumor Foundation to help research his diagnosis.
He eventually graduated from note cards to beautiful acrylic art on canvas that is regularly auctioned at charity events for as much as $20,000 apiece. To date, Hanson has helped raise more than $2 million for more than 150 charities worldwide.
Additionally, his art has been featured as the paint scheme on Porsche, Audi and Mustang racecars at the ROLEX 24 at Daytona and other races across the country. His artwork can also be found hanging in celebrity homes, including Buffett, who befriended Hanson after receiving a letter from him. He replied with a handwritten invitation to the 2010 Berkshire Hathaway annual shareholders meeting – a now-famous event that regularly draws hoards of Buffett fans and media to Omaha.
One of those who heard about Hanson’s remarkable story was Michael Slocum, vice president of customer engagement on a global Coca-Cola team that manages the company’s partnership with McDonald’s. Slocum called Hanson to ask if the artist would be interested in creating a piece of art for the fourth year of the art partners program.
Coca-Cola’s relationship with Ronald McDonald House Charities began more than 40 years ago when the first house opened in Philadelphia to provide temporary housing and support services to families of children receiving life-saving medical care at a nearby hospital. Today, local Coca-Cola bottlers around the world provide vending machines and an estimated 6 million cans of free Coke products each year to all Ronald McDonald Houses. All proceeds – $15 million so far – go directly to the local chapters.
Hanson quickly accepted Slocum’s offer.
“I understand the challenges being faced by families who stay at the Ronald McDonald House, and my heart goes out to them,” Hanson said. “I created this work as a tribute to them and I hope it brings joy to their hearts.”
That the charitable cause involved Coca-Cola only whetted Hanson’s interest. “I’ve always liked Coke,” he notes, adding that his favorite drink is Diet Coke, which he religiously pairs at McDonald’s with a double cheeseburger plain and medium fries well done.
Like all of his previous 1,400+ works, this painting was a time-consuming, detailed and brilliantly colored labor of love. It involved taking a thick, blank canvas, painting it white, then black, and then texturing the surface – a 12-hour step by itself. The result was a sculptured, 3D piece of art to which Hanson then applied brilliant strokes of blues, pinks, yellows, oranges, purples and reds.
The original “Polar Bear Sleepover” painting will be auctioned later this year at the Ronald McDonald House Charities annual gala in Orlando. Three lithographs of the painting will be gifted to each Ronald McDonald House in the U.S. and Canada and one will remain on display in each home, while the others will be auctioned for additional fundraising.
Hanson will be busy in the meantime. A recent appearance on CBS Sunday Morning solicited 758 new requests for paintings, of which he’s agreed to 96 commissions. At any one time, he has about 15 or more paintings in the works. Each one is unique, special and splashed with color.
Says mom Julie: “Behind each piece of art there’s a beautiful story.”
For more information on Jeff Hanson, visit his website: http://www.jeffreyowenhanson.com
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