Buffalo Grove survivor’s stroke inspires art
Len Upin, artist and a stroke survivor, stands inbetween drawings he did of his daughter Mindy, son Ricky, himself, and his wife Laura. His art is on display at Indian Trails Library in Wheeling. | Michelle LaVigne~Sun-Times Media
Updated: January 28, 2013 7:43AM
WHEELING — Buffalo Grove resident Len Upin was an art teacher at Fremd High School until Jan. 29, 2003. Ten years later, he is the featured artist of the month at Indian Trails Public Library.
His collection is a series of pen-on-paper portraits of stroke victims and their loved ones. His reason: On Jan. 28, 2003, Upin suffered a minor heart attack, and then, the next morning…
“I woke up feeling even crummier,” he said. “I called my wife, and told her to call a substitute teacher, but apparently, whatever I was saying, it was babbling. And then, straight to the hospital.”
Upin suffered an Ischemic stroke as he tried to speak with his wife. He survived, and today uses that experience as a creative outlet.
Q: You’re days away from the 10th anniversary of your stroke, and you’re sitting here in the Indian Trails Library because of your successful recovery. How are you feeling?
A: Every now and then, I’m still a little bit frustrated. My processing, it’s still a little messed up. When I have a conversation, especially on the phone, it’s hard. Every now and then, a word, it doesn’t click into my head. I have to figure out ‘What is this, what is that word, what does it mean?’ I talk much less. I couldn’t teach since 2003 to the time when I was supposed to retire, which was…I don’t know, last year? It doesn’t really matter. Do I feel cheated? No. I thought I would be able to regain 100 percent of my marbles. It does get better.
Q: How did this art collection come to be?
A: I could do any of the art stuff, so I figured Let’s keep playing around. I do a continuous-line method. I do it that way because it’s very relaxing. I take pictures of the person, I crop the parts that I want, I pencil in the main lines of their face, and then I start scribbling in. I’ll ask them to write their story, and their own problems with the stroke.
Q: Schools are cutting back on art education to stay afloat. How does that make you feel?
A: It’s terrible. As a teacher, what are they going to teach? So what, they’ve got writing, and they can do math, that’s great. What are they going to do? Are they going to see a movie? No, there won’t be any … they’re all artists. There’s a terrible situation with money.
Q: Technology, like computer tablets, is making all types of artistic media more readily available in students’ homes. Could that make up for the loss of classroom time?
A: My brother, he’s a professional artist as well. He always said ‘Just throw them some paint brushes and let them go, they’ll get into it.’ I agree, but I think you need something to get them going. There’s a lot of bad art out there. If they had training, maybe they could do it.
Q: After the show here in the library ends, what does the future hold?
A: I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing: drawing, gardening, playing with my dog. Technically, I’m retired. Teaching, I enjoy it, but sometimes it’s a pain.
Q: Can you work art into your garden?
A: No, it’s just an activity. It’s science, if I do it right.