In the Loop

News and views from across Mayo Clinic

September 12, 2017

The Creative Life of Jim Hansel, Acclaimed Painter Who Is Legally Blind

By In the Loop

Jim Hansel is one of the most decorated wildlife, nature, and landscape artists in North America. He’s also legally blind. And a new documentary chronicles exactly how he’s able to keep putting paint to canvas, with unique input from his ophthalmologist at Mayo Clinic.
Jim Hansel is famous for his beautiful paintings of nature, landscape and wildlife. He also happens to be legally blind. A new documentary chronicles how he continues to put paint to canvas.

If you're a fan of wildlife, nature and landscape art, you probably know the name Jim Hansel. The Chaska, Minnesota, native is one of the best, if not the best, in the country. He's painted, according to his website, 175 limited edition prints since 1987. Which is pretty remarkable — especially for a guy who's legally blind.

That's right. The beloved paintings were created by an artist with limited vision. And in a new documentary about Hansel's life and art, his eye doctor at Mayo Clinic, Raymond Iezzi Jr., M.D., says that should be a lesson in resiliency for us all.

"One of the most remarkable things about you, Jim, is that when I look at your retinas, as a retina doctor, I often scratch my head and try to understand how it is that you do the wonderful work that you do," Dr. Iezzi tells Jim about half-way through the documentary. "I understand on several levels just what you're dealing with in terms of your vision loss, and yet you've been able to do remarkable things beyond what most artists can do even when they're fully sighted."

That's because Jim has refused to let Stargardt disease stand in the way of his childhood dream of being a professional artist. Rather than get stuck in self-pity, he's found ways to overcome. And today, he's able to use the power of technology to help him see what his eyes cannot. "Even though my vision is getting worse, I think that because of my technology, my artwork is getting better," he tells filmmaker Mark Anderson of Creative Soul Video.

For the brief documentary, Anderson spent the better part of a year getting to know Jim and the technology he uses to create his paintings. That technology includes a smartphone that tells Jim when the photos he takes for the scenes he'll eventually paint are in focus, and a magnifier that allows him to do the painstaking detail work his fans have come to know and love.

It's a less than ideal (and efficient) process, of course. But for Jim, it's a way to get around his physical limitations and keep living his childhood dream. "Whatever it is, don't stop," he says. "Just keep working your way through it. A lot of it I think is attitude and mindset."

Those around him — especially Dr. Iezzi — agree. "I think you really serve as an inspiration on how you can work through loss, and the role of resilience in that. Meaning basically, if you're down, pick yourself up and push yourself forward," he tells Jim during their on-camera appointment. "It's my honor to be your doctor."

Watch the documentary:


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Tags: Dr. Raymond Iezzi, Ophthalmology, Patient Stories

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