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Laura Seitz, Deseret Morning News
Todd Powelson shows two possibilities -- 'Iris' and 'Imagination' -- for the painting he will donate to Primary Children's in memory of friend Ben Schmidt.

Todd Powelson and Ben Schmidt were buddies from their first introduction in ninth grade, more than 20 years ago.

They shared classes and laughs and a love of the same music. Their senior year, they went to a Sadie Hawkins dance together, in wheelchairs, because neither one had found a date.

The wheelchair was not a lark for "Schmidty." He suffered a rare genetic condition called Friedreich's ataxia, which attacks muscles. That same year, Schmidty's heart gave out from the damage it had sustained. He was 18.

Powelson, now 36, has spent the other half of his life missing his friend and honoring him when he can. He grew up to be an artist, and now he uses that talent to once more honor his friend.

Recently, he decided to donate artwork, in Schmidty's memory, to Primary Children's Medical Center, where the youth spent so much of his time. He's asking the public to help him choose which picture to donate.

"It took me a long time to come to grips with his death," he says. "Over the years, I've tried to think of ways to donate or volunteer in his honor, and this is one of my first steps."

Schmidty's body simply degraded over time, Powelson says. At some point, he started needing a wheelchair, and eventually "he couldn't control his body at all." The sicker he became, the more confined he was, but he was never without friends. "We'd go play penny poker at his house when he couldn't get out of the house. He was a great friend."

Powelson has posted the artwork online at www.toddpowelson.com and is asking the viewing public to vote for a personal favorite between now and Sept. 19. That vote will determine which of the three paintings he donates.

The donated art isn't all he hopes will honor his pal. Powelson's "Dreams for Schmidty" campaign includes what he calls an "unconventional art campaign." He's purchased ad space to show a series of 12 paintings. Each month, one painting will be unveiled in the monthly underground 'zine SLUG, starting in September. A release announcing that campaign said he "turned to SLUG when art galleries rejected his work because it was created digitally."

He's a master of several mediums. "Some of my earliest memories are of me drawing," said Powelson, whose mother did oil paintings and encouraged him. He was drawing as a little guy and embraced art all through school and beyond. He uses oils, watercolors and other mediums for his work, but is increasingly doing digital painting with a computer. He's also, by trade, a graphic designer.

As for his art project honoring his friend, "He's somebody I truly loved and have missed," he said.

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