After graduating from Waukesha North High School in 1984, Dan Campbell’s artistic talent blossomed after joining an art class founded by Donna Lexa for those with developmental disabilities.

Some of the paintings he created since that class will be featured at the Waukesha Art Crawl, which will be held from 4 to 9 p.m. Oct. 2 at Art Links, 329-333 W. Main St., Waukesha. Prints and postcards of his work will be for sale during the event.

Campbell, a member of St. Anthony on the Lake Parish, died Dec. 1, 2019, at the age of 57. The Pewaukee native was born with Down syndrome.

The prolific painter created vibrantly colored images of animals and flowers.  His profound attention to detail and composition amazed his mother, Eileen, who lives with her husband, Fraland, in Pewaukee.

“We had no idea he could paint like that,” Eileen Campbell said.

Throughout most of his artistic period, his paintings were joy-filled and happy. His family treasured his works, and at times, his family shared them with others. The parish owns several of his pieces and displays them in the church office.

As Campbell aged, he developed what his family referred to as a “dark stage,” where his paintings began to feature darker colors, somber tones and sad faces. Additionally, his art transformed from figurative art to that of a more abstract nature later.

“He had a habit of hiding smiley faces in some of his art, but after his dark period, when he emerged from that, some of those faces were frowns and became sad faces,” said Eileen.

At the time, they had no explanation for his change in artistic style, but a later diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease revealed the cause. The family donated his brain to the Waisman Center of the University of Wisconsin Madison, where he had participated in research before his death.

Sandra Gines remembers Campbell well as a member of ACAP (Adaptive Community Approach Program) when she came on board in 2018.

“His capacities were declining at that time, but he was still fun to be around, participating in programming, and enjoying himself,” she said. “He had a very close relationship with one of our staff members. He loved to be taken out to get a McDonald’s cheeseburger as a treat.”

During Campbell’s last months, he lived at the Arboretum in Menomonee Falls. The hospice team from Vistas Healthcare cared for him. Two months before he passed, the Arboretum staff organized an exhibition of his artwork collection.

The Donna Lexa Art Centers (DLAC) has enriched the lives of individuals with special needs since 1985.

Donna Lexa was an art therapist whose dream was to provide an environment of creative expression for specialized populations. According to Lexa, “Artwork is an extension of the person.  If the artwork is accepted, the artist is accepted.  That stimulates independence, self-confidence and motivation.”

Dan Campbell