Rawdon- Nova Scotia is home to hundreds of talented artists, several of them within ‘The Weekly Press’ readership area. The grade 1/2 class at Rawdon District Elementary had been studying artists, including the art of Maude Lewis when their teacher Kathy Blois brought in a few paintings by local, self taught artist Averill Barkhouse.
Barkhouse has a very special artistic talent which astonished the children when they heard about him; he paints with his mouth. They decided to write him a letter telling him how amazed they were by his ability to paint such beautiful paintings with his mouth.
Cyndy Withrow, one of the caregiver who often looks after Barkhouse, has a son Blake in the class and made it possible for him to come and demonstrate how he paints. He brought along his easel and a small painting he was working on of an ocean and sunset. He has limited use of his hands, but showed the children how he manages to grab the brush and use his teeth to maneuver it.
The children had several questions which he patiently answered and when the teacher suggested they hold the questions for later, he responded with I can talk and paint at the same time. They wanted to know what his first painting was, to which he answered a painting called ‘Seascape’ of an ocean, waves and clouds. He told them he likes to paint scenes with old buildings in them and has painted several in the area. The kids watched in open mouthed awe as Barkhouse mixed and painted the ocean scene. He told them the hardest thing for him was to paint a straight line.
Barkhouse explained to the children how he came to be in the wheelchair. He explained that 40 years ago there were not many seatbelts, and one dark morning as he was heading to work in Truro, he ran into a truck that was parked on the side of the road without lights. Without a seat belt, the crash damaged his spinal cord and left him a quadriplegic. He told the children that no matter how much they hated them, to always wear their seatbelts.
When Barkhouse had finished all he could on his painting, and after answering a few more questions, it was the children’s turn to try and paint with their mouth. They had been challenged to try and paint their name. As they waited for supplies a few tried to talk with the brush in their mouth with a few giggles as a result, but all gave the exercise a try with varied results.
Barkhouse has lived his life in Upper Rawdon working as a young man in the family store with his parents. At the age of 20 he was working as a welder when he had his accident leaving him to find a new career. He tried a variety of options while in Rehab, and worked a few years as a stockbroker until a friend suggested he try painting as a hobby. He learned to paint using his mouth and friends saw the talent and bought his paintings. After seeing samples of works done by other disabled painters, he submitted samples to the Mouth and Foot Painting Artists Association (MFPA) and was accepted in 1991. The association markets reproductions of the artist work as prints, greeting cards and calendars and other items for which the artist receives royalties.
Barkhouse has been painting for 25 years and when asked if it was hard to do at first, admitted it was but says, “There are a lot of things you can learn to do if you have to.”
He says he has painted over 200 paintings, some he has sold, a few given as gifts and many he has donated to community charities to raise funds. His paintings can be found in homes across Canada and he has won numerous awards for his work.