OKEECHOBEE — Bus driver Eric Christenson uses art to express his feelings related to the coronavirus. Known as “Mr. C” to all the students on Bus 11, his school bus for the last 10 years, Mr. Christenson said he has always been an art lover and, after he stopped working and began social distancing on March 24, he wanted to do something related to the pandemic.
Mr. C was born in Hollywood, Fla., but spent many years in New Jersey and moved to Okeechobee in 2003. He spent some time in Okeechobee as a child as well. His parents were divorced, and he lived here and went to school here for some time.
In New Jersey, Mr. C was a heavy equipment operator, but when they moved to Okeechobee, he went to work driving a school bus. Mr. C loves his job as a bus driver for the Okeechobee County school system. He has had the same route and bus for 10 years and has watched the kids grow from kindergarten to high school. He has kids graduating this year that he picked up when they were little tiny things. “It sounds like we won’t be back until next school year,” he said. “I miss the kids. They are a good pack of kids. I look forward to seeing them every day.” He said it is difficult, and he is sure the kids miss seeing the bus drivers and teachers and their friends, too.
Because he is older, he is spending his time at home, and what better way to pass all this time than to work on his art? He paints mostly with acrylics. He has done some other art forms such as cartooning and sign painting.
Art is a form of therapy for him. “You feel better when you sit down and create something, whether it gets out there and is seen or not,” he said. It’s a troubled time right now, and he is sending up prayers for everyone all the time. “This is something that snuck up on the whole world.”
He recently drew a kneeling angel. The entire drawing was made by putting dots on the canvas to form a picture. Each dot represents a life taken by the coronavirus. He got up to 30,000 dots and ran out of room on the canvas. “It was sad to do that,” he said. “I teared up a few times doing that.” As he put each dot on the canvas, he named it. “This one is for Uncle John. This one is for Billy. This one is for someone’s grandma, Joan.” He has not lost anyone personally to the virus but wanted to honor people who have died by giving the dots names.
He has never done the dot art before but wanted to try it. He did not sketch it first but had a basic outline and idea of what he wanted it to look like.
Another of his COVID-19 paintings was of an artist painting souls lost to the virus as the Grim Reaper cried. “In 41 days, we have gone up to the 50,000 mark. It’s too much,” he said.
Much of his art is done just for his own pleasure, but he is sometimes paid to paint. He painted all the art at Ferrell’s Market, both inside and out. He also painted the wagon wheel at the Covered Wagon in the Big O Flea Market.
Mr. C is not one of the bus drivers passing out food while the schools are shut down. He said, due to his age, he thought it best to stay home as much as possible. He feels Okeechobee is blessed to have the cafeteria, maintenance and bus drivers working hands-on, delivering food to the students. He is proud to be a part of the Okeechobee district schools and appreciates the way everyone is working together and putting the students first. He prays for them all every day.