My name is Bounsay Pipathsouk, the artist who created the works you see on this website. I am the proud father of two Stanford and UIUC graduates, Andrew ('13), Anne ('10), and Sophia ('17). I own and run an upholstery business with my wife Pealuan in Rockford, IL.
Bounsay Pipathsouk used to draw faces for food. Embassy officials heard about the Laotian man who could depict a portrait with uncanny accuracy, and they paid him $20 for a charcoal or pencil drawing. One portrait could feed Bounsay, his father and his sister for a month along with their United Nations’ rations, so Bounsay gave away rice to anyone else in need. That was 30 years ago, when Bounsay had his homeland, Laos, for a refugee camp in Thailand.
Now, Bounsay – an American immigrant and entrepreneur – draws celebrities. “Doing this for 10 years without pay, you have to have a passion for it,” Bounsay says.
A Rockford resident since 1978, Bounsay is perhaps best known as the owner of Upholstery Service on 21st Place. Even there, his true passion looks down, seductively, at his customers in the likenesses of Janet Jackson, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Barbara Walters. He’s often asked, “Why are these all pretty women?” He explains that if he can’t sell the drawing, he wouldn’t mind hanging it in his own home.
“I’m happy, all the people are happy looking at it rather than some ugly old lady or old ma.” And drawing celebrities is challenging for Bounsay. “If I do somebody nobody knows, (people would ask) who is that guy? Does he really look like that? Who is that girl? Does she really look like that?” in sketching the famous, Bounsay says, people can see that his renderings are exact. His favorite drawing hangs at The Frame Shoppe Gallery in Edgebrook Center off Alpine Road in Rockford. It’s a 40-by-60-inch drawing of Jackie Kennedy in her wedding dress. When he steps into the store to show it off, co-owner Mary Ellen Zanocco-Jansen says, “It’s beautiful.” Her customers often compliment the piece and are surprised to learn their upholsterer, Bounsay, drew it.
Bounsay saw the photograph of Jackie in a magazine and knew he had to draw it. “When I saw that I said I can’t wait to start working on that,” Bounsay says. “You just cannot stop. I could not wait to see the eyes and her nose and her eyebrows and her lips.”
The lips, he says, reveal all her emotion. The drawing isn’t for sale; Bounsay hopes to give it to Jackie’s daughter to be displayed in the Kennedy Museum.
After Bounsay was given refugee in the United States, he gave up drawing while he learned upholstery and then opened his store. About a decade ago, his 8-year-old son happened upon some of his father’s old drawings and asked why he wasn’t still drawing. Bounsay told his son that if he were still drawing, the family wouldn’t have a house. He gave up something he loved because it wouldn’t pay the bills. His son quoted his teacher, saying that just because something is difficult, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t quit.
That was enough for Bounsay to resume his artwork – only now he draws large portraits not just because he thinks they’re more dramatic but because his eyesight makes it difficult to draw the details in smaller images. Usually, a drawing consumes him so much, he forgets to stop and eat.