Lisa Schuster had graduated from business school and was running an art publishing business before she ever tried her hand at painting. Someone who had always appreciated art, she’d never considered herself an artist, and, when she finally allowed herself the freedom to test out her skills at age 30, she found that she had considerable talent. Today, though best-known for her abstract collection, Schuster is also an accomplished floral and landscape painter and creates captivating drawings with pen and paper.
Schuster is also known for her generous heart. She donated the first painting from her “Splash!” abstract collection to a charity auction and has continued donating her work and participating in charity events ever since. The following is her story as told to Art Business News editor Megan Kaplon.
I’ve always felt like my art career found me. While working on my MBA at Xavier University, one of the requirements before graduating was to design a company incorporating all the aspects of the curriculum. I chose art publishing. After I completed my degree, my father encouraged me and funded me to actually bring the business concept to life, and it grew into a large family business. Then, after years of working with artists through the publishing company, I decided to try painting, and, eventually, I ventured out on my own as an independent artist.
Our art publishing business supplied framed prints to the furniture industry—a huge variety of things, from barns to scenery. We’d use sand and glass and all these different textures and media on different kinds of boards and canvases. It was a hodgepodge of a billion different things, and, through trying all this new stuff, I was able to weed out what I really liked doing the best. And it turns out it was plain old oil paint.
Entering the art world so relatively late, I had to deal with some insecurity. I did well in school, but it was in business and in books, nothing to do with art. It was such a brand-new world to me.
I eventually opened a gallery to unload the mountain of original paintings I had accumulated over the years, and I used that space and time to develop a signature look.
It’s hard to describe my painting style, because I do so many different things—from photo realism to pretty wild abstracts. My abstract collection entitled “Splash!” is my most popular. For these paintings, I use oil paint on metal sheets to create ethereal, vibrant abstracts.
I donated my first completed “Splash!” piece to a live auction event sponsored by Kindervelt, the charitable auxiliary of the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, to see how it would fly. It generated a lot of interest for me and thousands of dollars for the organization. After everything that I had painted in my career, that first “Splash!” painting was the thing that felt the most like me, so it was very validating to get the positive response from the Kindervelt auction.
I support three primary charities every year: Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF); Family Nurturing Center, an organization that provides child-abuse treatment, prevention, and education programs to families in the Northern Kentucky and Greater Cincinnati area; and Kindervelt. My sister was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when she was 7, and, 40 years later, my mother still gets emotional talking about the excellent care my sister received from Cincinnati Children’s during that terrifying time. Although I have no direct experience with child abuse, just knowing that it happens—and with horrifying frequency—is enough to make you take what action you can to support the children affected.
I always say yes when someone asks me to be involved in a charity event or an auction, even if it’s just donating a rolled-up print or giclée. I have a deep and diverse group of generous and charity-minded friends. When they ask, I say yes. If the cause is worthy of their precious time and energy, it is worthy of mine.
There are two main reasons I participate in charitable events. First, it’s true that whatever you give, you get back more. Through my donations, I have been rewarded with new friendships and business relationships that will last a lifetime.
You just never know where one act of kindness can lead you. I donated a piece 10 years ago to Grace Jones—esteemed designer and owner of Dwellings, the fabulous interior design studio in Cincinnati—and she introduced me to Litsa Spanos, owner of the wildly successful Art Design Consultants, who in turn connected me with Gallery One in Naples, where I now exhibit my work.
The other thing is, although I have put way more than 10,000 hours into my craft, it would be foolish to suggest that I wasn’t unwittingly blessed with a gift for art, for which I am forever grateful. It feels good and right to share this. ABN
One of Lisa Schuster’s charitable projects for this holiday season was an abstract painting she created for the American Cancer Society’s annual Striders’ Ball. This year, the event’s theme is “Hats Off to a Cure,” and Schuster’s painting features most prominently the theme colors—red, black, and cream—in addition to a highlight color for each of the various cancer ribbons: white for lung cancer, light blue for prostate cancer, teal for ovarian cancer, and so on.
“Clearly, there is no way to paint cancer pretty,” Schuster writes in her donation letter to the chairwoman of the event. “What I have tried to accomplish in this painting is to honor the heroic efforts of all those who do what they do to inspire hope, generate awareness, and move toward a cure. Thank you for inviting me to do what I do to support this noble cause.”