How the smile of one donkey touched others and they touched me.



By Karen Pannabecker

Many art buyers like to meet and talk with artists. They may not realize this works both ways. Artists also enjoy getting to know the folks who buy their art. A personal touch works both ways.

In December 2019, I entered an oil painting of a laughing donkey, HAWW!, in Roanoke Carilion’s annual Healing Arts show. At its opening I learned my donkey had won second place. Of course, I reveled in that feeling of accomplishment, but as everyone knows, a high is short-lived.

The Carilion show remains on display for four months. If an artist is fortunate, the encouragement of a purchase might eventually follow the initial high of acceptance.

But the Carilion show is special because it takes place on the ground floor of a hospital. Most of the people who view the show do not make a special effort to attend. They may have never seen an art show. They come for other reasons— to be tested, check in for treatment, or to accompany or visit a patient.

On their way to wherever they’re going, they pass by the art. Especially lucky for me, the curators placed my donkey, along with my contact information, beside the Information Desk.

One day I received an email from a stranger in NJ.

My husband has been in Roanoke visiting his mother and sister and has been passing your painting a lot. He sends me selfies each day. I would like to buy it for him. He is finally graduating college, 36 years after starting, and this would be a fabulous gift for him. 

I wish I could include all the selfies he took, because he looks like such a fun guy.


She and I talked on the phone and immediately made a connection. I will hold the painting for her until they head south again. I just received an email that they might come visit us here at the farm. I love that.

Two days later I received this email.

I am a pediatric ophthalmologist. I take care of kids with all kinds of eye problems and specialize in a muscle surgery for kids and adults with eye misalignment.

I have fallen in love with the donkey picture and would love to purchase it for my office. It makes me smile every time I see it and know it will make the kids smile as well. 

 In addition the donkey is an interesting animal because, although the donkey may be involved in backbreaking hard work, the donkey has the ability to appear to laugh and hee-haw- which is a good metaphor of resilience and perspective for anyone dealing with difficulty in life.

What could make an artist feel better than this? I’m working on another painting for him to hang in his waiting room.

Other emails thanked me for the lift the donkey’s smile offered in a place they would have preferred not to be.

And then this arrived.

I am interested in purchasing HAWWWWW as a birthday gift for my wife of 51 years. She will be 72 on March 6th & it would be an unexpected gift for her. 

He was disappointed the painting had sold, but asked if I could paint another one for his wife, and could they come out to our farm to meet me, our donkey, and the rest of our animals. After several email exchanges, I knew we’d all hit it off. And, we did. They spent a few hours at our home, picked up their painting and plan to return with their children and grandchildren from Richmond next month for another visit.


Yes, winning awards and selling art is rewarding. But the usual buy, that purchase off the wall of a gallery or through cyberspace, doesn’t compare with the possible continuing relationships, and even friendships, that can result from a personal connection through art.


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