When arms failed, Seattle artist began painting by mouth to build a successful career
“This was surely to be the biggest adventure I would ever embark upon.”
That’s how Seattle artist Brom Wikstrom remembers feeling when, at age 21, he lost use of his arms and legs. In the thirty years since that accident, he has found ways for his art to continue poring out, transforming both his life and that of others in the process.
Born in Seattle, Brom Wikstrom recalls his youth with enthusiasm. During his high school years he painted for the school yearbook and worked as an apprentice in his father’s commercial art business. He enjoyed studying art in a Seattle college, and proudly graduated with an art degree.
In 1975 Wikstrom and a friend went to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. One afternoon, they decided to go swimming in the Mississippi River. Wikstrom dove right in with his usual 21-year-old zest. Unfortunately, the water was only five inches deep. “I sustained an injury to my spinal cord … and became paralyzed from the shoulders down,” relates Wikstrom.
After seven long weeks in intensive care, Wikstrom began rehabilitation. Using a hand splint, he learned to feed himself. However, “the attempts to draw with my hand splint were utterly worthless.” Since his neck and shoulders were fully functional, he tried painting with the brush in his mouth. His first mouth painting attempts were discouraging, yet he persevered. “I came to increasingly feel that my life was not over but had taken a drastic turn and that art would help me to make the most of it.”
After a year in rehab Wikstrom moved home with his parents; they set up his bedroom and studio on the first floor. He spent most days painting. Soon another artist invited Wikstrom to teach art at the Seattle Children’s Hospital, and he quickly accepted. Wikstrom enjoyed getting out of the house and lifting the children’s spirits.
Wikstrom’s hospital work hooked him up with other artists and organizations. “In 1980, I first heard about and applied for membership to the Association of Mouth and Foot Painting Artists,” recalls Wikstrom. The AMFPA is an organization for artists who aren’t able to paint with their hands due to a disability. Their slogan is “no pity please;” it is not a charity. The artists earn their membership by demonstrating their talent. Wikstrom was not accepted right away, but he didn’t give up. He sought advice from a few AMFPA member artists who lived near him.
In 1985 the AMFPA invited Wikstrom to join as a student member, whereby he was granted a scholarship. In 1992 Wikstrom was accepted as a full member; the association is owned by about 100 full members, who receive a full salary for life. Even if the artist becomes unable to paint, their salary is guaranteed. “Through this magnificent association I have found a freedom from worry and [have established] friendships globally,” says Wikstrom.
Wikstrom’s work has been shown around the world, including the United Kingdom, Belgium, Australia, and Canada. He won first prize for a watercolor painting in 2003 at the Sister Kenny International Art Show in Minneapolis.
In the words of Brom Wikstrom: “I encourage you to do the best with your life and remember to never give up on your dreams.”
If you are interested in becoming an MFPA artist, placing an order, or just looking for more information, visit AMFPA, www.amfpa.com; North American Branch, www.mfpausa.com; Wikstrom’s Web site, www.bromwikstrom.com