Talent Has No Boundaries
Highlights from the 2012 National Veterans Creative Arts Festival
What famous people contribute or have contributed to “the arts” despite mobility impairment?
Christy Brown (1933–1981) was an Irish writer and painter who had cerebral palsy. The film My Left Foot was based on one of his autobiographical works.
John Callahan (1951– ) is a cartoonist and disability rights activist who is quadriplegic as a result of a spinal-cord injury. Frida Kahlo (1907–1954) was a Mexican painter whose works achieved great recognition in recent years. She had multiple disabilities, including mobility impairment.
Susan Nussbaum (1953– ) is an actor and playwright as well as a disability rights activist.
Many of her plays challenge disability stereotypes. She is paraplegic as the result of a car accident. World-renowned violinist Itzak Perlman (1945– ) began playing the violin as a young child and had his first solo recital at age 10. He uses braces and crutches as a result of polio, contracted when he was 4, and performs sitting down. In addition to his musical career, he is an advocate for disability rights.
These are just a few of the creative arts’ celebrities with disabilities. Many others have hearing impairments, blindness, and other conditions.
One of the organizations for creative artists with disabilities is Mouth and Foot Painting Artists (MFPA). According to the website, its roots go back to 1956, when Erich Stegmann — who after contracting polio began painting with tools held in his mouth — gathered a small group of disabled artists from eight European countries. Their goal was to make their living through their artistic efforts.
Stegmann established MFPA as a cooperative organization that reproduces its artists’ works mainly in the form of cards, calendars and books. The group now represents about 750 members from more than 75 countries. MFPA’s motto in the United States is “Self Help – Not Charity.”
Among those 750 members is Les Menard. At age 18, he was attending a company clambake when he dove into shallow water and broke his neck, leaving him quadriplegic. A resident of Maine, he enjoys painting landscapes and for inspiration spends long hours in Acadia National Park. After battling a sore neck from hours of painting, he invented an ergonomically correct easel for quads. The Kane Easel allows its user to continually change positions while maintaining a constant relationship with the canvas. The artist can work in a number of sitting positions or even lying down. Menard received a patent for the Kane Easel in 1997.
Unlike Menard, who is an inventor as well as an artist, many people exhibit great talent in one area, such as dancing, singing, painting, etc. But Robert Florio, of Maryland, he has branched out into several genres. At age 14 he became quadriplegic when he dove into a swimming pool. Even before his accident, he was an aspiring artist. In 2007, Florio graduated from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh with a BS in video game art and design. For this mouth painter, art is a form of expression as well as a way of life. When he isn’t painting, you can find him doing public speaking, writing and illustrating children’s books, or presenting stand-up comedy routines. He also has published an autobiography, Life! It Must Be a Comedy.
To view work by Menard, Florio, and hundreds of other mouth and foot painters, visit mfpausa.com.
Talent Has No Boundaries
(Register or login to add comments.)