Artists to raise funds for one of their own

Published on Monday, 20 January 2014 23:28 - Written by FAITH HARPER fharper@typerpaper.com

A community of artists has banded together to show love and support to one of their own.

Joseph French, a former Tyler Junior College student and artist, was shot multiple times Dec. 20 while walking home from the school where he was a teacher in Puerto Cortes, Honduras.

To help with medical bills, local artists are putting their original works on the auction block to help fund his care.

“Long Live the Frenchman” will be held from 7 to 10 p.m. on Friday at Sports Zone, 115 E. Erwin St. in Tyler. The 21-and-up event will be a silent auction of artwork from Adrienne Stine, Nora Schreiber, Cora Rountree, Sam Fontenot, Joanna Gifford Mackenzie and Derrick White. Winners will be announced at 10 p.m.

“When someone gets hurt, we have to help each other, and I can’t think of a better person to help than Joe,” Fontenot said. “He didn’t deserve what happened to him.”

Ms. Stein, an organizer of the event, said there will be a variety of art to bid on including ceramics, paintings, tattoo art and bath soaps. Music is provided by DJ Cicero and Dcline.

The items also will be posted to the Etsy account during the silent auction (www.etsy.com/shop/ArtforFrench ) so people under 21 or who cannot attend also can participate.

Mrs. Rountree, who created and maintains the online account, said the items will be posted online at the start of the auction and if they sell, a note will be placed on the art piece. If any art doesn’t sell, it will be put online.

The online store will be open for the duration of French’s stay in the hospital.

“Hopefully someone will buy (art) and not only pay what I think it’s worth, but more importantly pay what Joe’s worth ... because there is no way he is done creating,” Fontenot said.

French’s friends said that if the circumstances were reversed, he would be in the middle of fundraising events trying to help.

“He would do the same for any of us…” White, an art instructor at Tyler Junior College, said. “A lot of us don’t have the money to donate to his cause, but those who make things in the spirit of creation and passion can donate those things to try to raise some funds for him and his family.”

White said the school’s art club donated $1,000 to the family from its funds, plus an additional $150 that was raised on campus.

The art club has taken on what they call the “French cause” into their own hands and will brainstorm ways to fundraise throughout the year. Funds from the club’s annual silent art auction in April will also be dedicated to the family, White said.

Once the news of French’s injury was posted online, people in two countries rushed to start helping.

Two online donation sites were set up and private donations started flowing in. The family was able to raise enough money to keep him in a private Honduras hospital at a cost of $5,000 per day and funded an airplane ambulance transport him to Baylor University Medical Center. The tab for the transport was $25,000.

David Ortega, French’s brother, said the family is forever thankful for the help that helped keep his brother alive.

“I’m still surprised and amazed on how people have turned out for my brother …” he said. “This social media thing has exploded because of (his friends’ support, and it’s because of that support that we were able to get Joseph up here and get him in rehab.”

Ortega said French faces a long road to recovery but is improving daily. A brain injury prevented him from moving his right side, but he now is able to sway his head both ways, move his eyes to the right and lift a finger on that hand.

“It’s a slow thing, we know that, but we are excited because he’s alive and he is making progress,” Ortega said.

In addition to funds, local artists are also working to up French’s morale. Several have visited him in the hospital, and banners will be at the “Save the Frenchman” event and are up at the Gallery Main Street, 110 W. Erwin St.

“Being an artist, Joe is a very visual guy, so we thought a visual reminder of our good thoughts and wishes would be the perfect thing for him …” said Beverly Abell, with the gallery. “We welcome anyone who knows Joe, or wants to wish him well, to come to the gallery and leave a message of encouragement on the banners for him. We hope that eventually these banners make it to his hospital room walls to serve as encouragement to him.”

Friends local and abroad also are using social media to spread words of hope and encouragement. The artist’s Facebook wall is full of inspirational thoughts, old pictures and loving wishes. The Recovery Miracle of Joe French Facebook page shares updates on his recovery.

“That’s a good testament to the number of people that Joe’s life has influenced and touched,” White said. “It’s not just that he was a local artist — he was a humanitarian and an active community member. He was very involved in all of East Texas and bringing people together by promoting a passion for life encouraging people to follow their dreams and do what they love.”