NAPERVILLE, Ill. (CBS) — The gunshots seemed to come out of nowhere, and when they stopped, a suburban artist was left paralyzed.
But she kept fighting – using the canvas to do it. And as CBS 2’s Dana Kozlov reported Tuesday night, Mariam Pare’s work is about to be seen worldwide.
The Naperville artist’s work is painstakingly precise – each brush stroke has a purpose. It’s a challenge for every painter, and perhaps more so for Pare, who paints holding the brush in her mouth.
“Learning to paint with my mouth was very humbling,” Pare said. “But I knew that the knowledge was inside of me, and I saw the potential.”
Pare learned her craft after a bullet left her a quadriplegic at the age of 20. She was in art school at the time and was visiting a friend in Virginia, when the gunshot pierced her car and hit her in the back as she sat at a stop sign.
“I watched my hands fall off the steering wheel,” Pare said. “I literally – my eyes were open, and my hands just fell limp.”
The shooter was never caught. And those hands, essential to Pare’s art, were now useless.
But after rehab and learning to write her name by mouth, Pare became determined to paint again.
“It was like a lifeline for me, and it gave me purpose,” she said. “It gave me something to work on.”
Now, 23 years later, Pare is an associate member of the Mouth and Foot Painting Artists, a group that gives stipends to artists accepted into the program. This year, Pare is one of four U.S. artists whose work was chosen to be part of the MFPA’s annual Christmas card sale – the proceeds of which go back to the artists.
“They’re all aware of this gift that they have, that then when they’re selected – be it by us or one of the other publishing houses, it validates why they’re doing what they’re doing,” said MFPA artist counselor Kate March.
It also means Pare is a working artist – supporting herself, in part, through her paintings. It’s an achievement for any painter, which is just how Pare sees herself.
“I don’t want people to say, ‘Oh, good for you,’ you know, ‘Oh, you’re a nice disabled artist – oh, look at the nice drawings and paintings you did,’” Pare said. “No, it’s like, I’m an artist, and I want my work to stand for itself.”
MFPA has 800 artists worldwide, whose work is reviewed every year.
By Dana Kozlov