IT’S a family affair at First Friday this weekend.
At Foxy Loxy, “Power and Patience” features a collection of donated art from some of Savannah’s most talented artists to benefit Keith Kozel.
Down the street at Henny Penny, Kozel’s five-year-old daughter, Zelia, will host “Rainbow Gardens,” her first collection. The collection of paintings is displayed throughout their living room and look, without exaggeration, like they were painted by a professional, not a child.
Zelia’s paintings are bright and cheerful, and she uses color especially well.
“I think she’s good!” exclaims her mom Carrie Christian.
Zelia shows me her paintings—an Egyptian princess, a rainbow, and a haunted house, complete with multicolored ghosts. Pinks and yellows are her favorite colors to paint with and lend a softness to the bold palette she uses.
“She’s got an eye for color,” says Kozel, “not in spite of being five.”
“Five and a half!” corrects Zelia.
It should come as no surprise that Zelia is an incredibly talented painter. Christian owns Scribble Art Studio and runs the art space at Henny Penny.
In addition to being a prolific musician, playing in favorite Savannah bands like Superhorse and GAM, Kozel is also a talented illustrator. He shows me his sketchbook full of intricate designs.
“I started out as a visual artist, but I never really pursued it,” Kozel muses. “I guess I’m good at it?”
“You’re really good!” exclaims Christian. “I think you’re great!”
Kozel still plays music with his friends every week, but has slowed considerably as of late thanks to a rare kidney condition that doctors weren’t able to diagnose at first.
After going into kidney failure, doctors recommended Kozel get a transplant, but the kidney only lasted about four days before declining. Kozel was eventually diagnosed with Waldenstrom macroglobulinemial and went to Little Rock for treatment.
“I was really sick for a long time, and it was really rough around here for a year,” says Kozel.
“And we’d just had a baby, too,” adds Christian. “We had a newborn at the same time all of this was happening.”
That’s when Zelia started painting.
“She wanted to hang by me, and what I’m doing is hanging out in an art studio,” says Christian.
“If I remember correctly, she was drawing circles and shapes and stuff when she was one year old. This is one, something to do, and two, it’s a creative outlet. I give her big canvases and we paint together, and she just did a beautiful job.”
Christian got through the hard times by painting with Zelia and with good friends by her side.
“When Keith was away, I had a lot of friends who just knew,” Christian remembers. “They were like, ‘We know you’re having a hard time getting meals on the table, so we’re going to start a meal train.’ Or, ‘We know that Keith needs an extra phone call right now.’ It just makes you feel loved and want to do the same for someone else.”
This time, friends Irene and Kenny Ward were the ones to help out.
“They put out a call for artists and I didn’t even know about it,” says Kozel. “I was like, ‘Wow, okay, let’s do a benefit!’”
Artists such as Geoff L. Johnson, Stacie Jean Albano and Katherine Sandoz all donated works, as well as some of Christian’s students at Scribble. The pieces are priced at their suggested minimum and can be purchased for more.
All proceeds benefit Kozel’s medical bills, which are still huge despite being mostly covered by Medicare.
“I’ve had a few fundraisers over the years, because these bills are astronomical and I’m just some guy. I don’t come from a rich family,” says Kozel.
“It’s been ridiculous, the amount of money that it costs. Thankfully for me, a lot of is subsidized, but a lot is not. I like being able to give back—I don’t like to be like, ‘Can I have some money?’”
“It’s hard to admit you need help,” says Christian. “We all want to feel like we can handle it. We don’t want to drag anyone else into it.”
Savannah’s community has embraced the family with open arms and shown them their full support.
“We’re just so grateful,” says Christian. “It’s so heartwarming. I told Keith to just look at it as one big hug. Everyone just wants to help and show support.”
“Somebody is giving me a huge hug right now,” laughs Kozel. “I’m totally into it.”