The Journal Gazette
Thursday, January 20, 2022 1:00 am

A moment in time captured

After 10 years, painting finds way to subject

TERRI RICHARDSON | The Journal Gazette

Carissa Price Weber never thought she would end up in a painting. But that's what happened when a small moment was captured by an artist while she was working at Coney Island 10 years ago.

The artist, Rick Wilson, was eating at the downtown hot dog stand with his wife when the light flooding through the front windows of the restaurant caught his attention and he whipped out his phone and took a photograph. It just so happened that Price Weber was tending to customers at that moment.

“It was the perfect view with people sitting at the counter and Carissa walking through the opening of the counter with her coffee pot,” Wilson says by phone from his Edinburgh home.

Wilson turned the photo into a painting that he called “The Chiaroscuro Moment.” He took it to Castle Gallery on West Wayne Street, where it could be exhibited and sold.

The painting was sold, but through fate, and a series of moments that continued over the last 10 years, the woman in the painting was eventually reunited with her real-life subject.

A front-line worker

Price Weber was working at Coney Island to pay for school and her upcoming wedding. Her husband, Justin Weber, also worked at Coney Island, and the two were married in 2014. 

She doesn't remember the day the photo was taken.

“I don't remember him being there,” Price Weber says. “When you work as a server, you meet lots of different people. Lots of people are taking photos of Coney Island.”

The painting shows a young woman with a red visor and gray sweater. Because the woman's face isn't specific, it took some detective work on the part of the Coney Island owners to figure out that the woman was Price Weber.

Price Weber actually lived next to Castle Gallery for a time. In fact, she got permission from owner Jody Hemphill Smith to have some of her wedding photos taken on the steps of the gallery.

It was in 2014 when she found out about the painting, but she didn't have the money to buy it.

So the painting went to someone else, and Price Weber continued with her life. 

She got her degree in social work and psychology and then went back to school for nursing. She graduated in August 2020 and then started at Lutheran Hospital the following month, jumping right into the COVID-19 ICU. That's where she's been for the last 18 months – working the front line of the deadly pandemic.

“Sometimes I thought that was a little bit crazy of me, but that's the place I need to be,” Weber says of her COVID work.

Price Weber also left her place next to Castle Gallery, moving into a home on the south side.

But Hemphill Smith never lost track of the young woman in the painting, a promise she made to the new owners of the artwork.

A surprise gift

Hemphill Smith would see Price Weber coming and going when she lived next to the gallery. Hemphill Smith knew she was the subject of the painting and told the Fort Wayne couple that bought the painting about Price Weber.

The couple, who enjoy collecting art, asked Hemphill Smith to keep track of Price Weber because eventually they wanted to give her the piece of artwork.

So that's what Hemphill Smith did.

Then in December, Hemphill Smith's years of keeping up with the couple paid off. The art collectors were downsizing and made the decision to give the painting to Price Weber and her husband.

“... All these years they have enjoyed the painting, but they wanted to pass it on to someone else that would enjoy it,” Hemphill Smith says. “It was a beautiful Christmas story.”

Hemphill Smith contacted Price Weber and she came to see the painting in person for the first time. Not only did she find out that the painting would be hers, she also got to talk to the artist – the one who started the series of events with that one photo more than a decade ago.

A fateful journey

The Coney Island painting isn't Wilson's usual style. For him, it almost has an Edward Hopper kind of feel. Most of his oil painting work is in the French Barbizon period.

“That piece was a little different,” he says.

He believes it was amazing that the couple gave the painting to Price Weber, especially since the painting wasn't cheap.

“It melted my heart,” he says when he found out what the collectors had done.

It's also surprised him the journey that the painting has made, ultimately ending up back in the hands of its subject.

“It's got a great prominence,” he laughed. 

At least in Fort Wayne.

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