Robb Dunfield was an active nineteen-year-old sportsman, ski instructor, and all ’round good chap when he had his accident. He and three of his friends plunged from an insecure balcony of an unfinished building. Robb received irreversible injuries — a severed spine.
Robb was confined to a quadriplegic hospital, paralyzed from the neck down. For years he lay there, a ventilator doing his breathing, at times without even his voice, a ward of the state and a source of anguish for his family. One day he told me he wanted to learn to paint.
We worked together over a period of years. My idea was that Robb would be not just a good mouth painter, but a good painter — period. For his part, he saw painting as the key to his independence and self respect. It was frustrating just watching him. He would take hours to do what you and I can do in minutes.
Robb Dunfield persisted. People began to be charmed by his oils and his gentle nature. One day he told me that his goal in life was to be a giver and not a taker. I suggested he might have some of his works turned into photo-litho prints and offered as fund-raisers for charities. As of today Robb’s work has directly raised over $1,500,000.00 for Paraplegic Associations, and other charities. This sort of generosity has been a factor in facilitating the sale of his originals to his own benefit for excellent prices.
Today, twenty-two years after those few seconds that changed his life, Robb is a successful artist, public speaker and facilitator of young people to face inevitable change and to reach toward achieving their dreams. Free of hospitals, he lives in an elevatored home in the country, is married to beautiful Sarah and they now have their very own twin girls. Not bad for a hopeless case.
PS: “People with disabilities still constitute a small minority. Yet the Beautiful People — the slender, fair and perfect ones — form a minority that may be even smaller.” (Debra Kent)
A book “If Sarah will Take Me” by Dave Bouchard, tells about his remarkable life and what he’s achieved so far.
Annie Laurie Burke
I, too, began my art as physical and mental therapy after an accident caused me some disability. My problems were nowhere near as severe as Robb’s. Art is very healing spiritually, mentally and physically. I think there is something in humans that needs art just as we need food, though some may ignore their MDR of art. One of the signs I use to pique people’s interest in art says “Art is Soul Food.”
We are all disabled in some way. Some, of course, much more than others. Coming to terms with our disabilities and making them work for ourselves is the challenge.
Brian Lane, Chicago, USA
The truly beautiful people are the ones who overcome their disadvantaged situation and without whining, give back generously to the community in which they live.
Cole Paterson, Sun River, Montana, USA
I can scan my state issued Handicap Parking permit to assure you that I’m not an scurrilous entreprenuer. I don’t even know another plein aire painter in my region. Spring has sprung and things are coming into the blues and blue greens nicely here.
Mike Solvang, Florida, USA
When we artists act to contribute to the causes in our communities the returns can be quite staggering. There is no limit to the good karma that floats around and brings more abundance to our studios. I often feel it’s the most effective way we can serve. Never mind about the tax receipt.
Mary Jackson-Higgs, Australia
One of the basic principles is change. We must all be ready for substantial and surprising change to take place in our lives. We all hope and wish that the instantaneous bad luck that occurred to Robb Dunfield will not happen to us. But the spectre is with us at all times. That is one good reason to inhale life as it’s given to us. The disabled would have us do it no other way.
Ruth Steinfatt, Vancouver Island, BC, Canada
Robb’s spirit shone through all odds, and I am sure is an inspiration tothose who meet him.
Mark Haughton, Rock Deco
Not every morning is filled with the joy of being alive, but it is the true life stories like Robb’s that helps the sun shine for me. Thanks Robb.
I, out of the blue, bent over one July day five years ago and WHAM…..a searing pain in my lower back and legs shot through my body. It was the kind of pain that stops you from breathing. I stiffened and fell over like a fallen tree. My dog was with me and he licked my face….Ha Ha maybe that helped me ride above the incredible pain and try to crawl over to my pickup. It took some time but eventually I made it. Got home and called a friend and my wife. By the time they got to the house I was laid out on the floor and couldn’t move. Of course went to the hospital and got the X-rays, shots etc. and was told I needed an MRI. After that was done the neurosurgeon told me that
I definitely had ruptured a disk in my back. But, he added that they don’t have very good luck operating on people where and how I am hurt. He said to find a pain Dr. and I have. I have had 9 epidural steroid injections in the spine and they are a slice of heaven while the medication lasts. The surgeons (several) have told me I have a 60/40 chance on the table. If it doesn’t work I’ll be worse and it will be permanent. They added that there will be nothing they could do for me then. I take too many medications but the alternative is something I can’t risk. I don’t have much left (in comparison to my former lifestyle of hunting and packing into the wilderness and hiking, fishing and doing anything I wanted physically anyway) so I can’t afford to loose anymore or I know I would have to take the long lonely prematurely….Now I am trying to paint as it is fairly sedentary although it still wipes me out to “hold steady” painting for about 20 min. at a time.
Filled with abilities
Dale Bedford, Dallas, Texas, USA
In response to the letter on disabled art I would like to make the following comments. In 1993 I received a traumatic brain injury from a karate match. For about a year I was nothing more than a thing that watched TV without even the knowledge of what commercial I had just seen. Then I began painting with support of some very special people. Today I am on the executive board of VSA arts in Dallas / Ft Worth Texas, the VP of the local art assoc. and have produced 35 exhibits spotlighting over 200 disabled artists.
The fact is according to the most recent census around 20% of our population in America has some sort of disabilities. VSA arts in Washington is coming out with a book in the near future in which they have identified over 200 careers in the art world that may be filled by those of us with disabilities.
What the facts represent are that disability only refers to one aspect of a persons life and that in spite of the negative label all the rest of that persons life is filled with abilities!
It seems that as a rule a person will reflect the attitude of their support system and what we expect of them. Without support and with a constant bombardment of “Your not capable” the person will assume they are not capable. The great thing about the art world is that the art stands on its’ own and spotlights only the artists’ ability never suggesting any disability.
Yaroslaw & Olga, Moscow
We think Robb Dunfield is good example to follow. But not always it is possible for all people. Different people have different education, money reserve, possibility of relative help. And, except of this, different countries are at the different level of civilization. For example, by us the credit card is not usual thing for all people. The electronic money by us have in active use only two banks in Moscow- Guta-bank and Avtobank. But those banks are not able to guarantee for us ( as a little client) the money security in the Russia because of clever Russian computer hackers. The security of electronic money is so expensive in the Russia and it is available for very large firms. It means we are cut off from Internet business now yet and are sitting in the cage of uncivilization. Of course, there are existing other ways for development. And more is depending from will of man, we are existing to now in the Russia with not typical for our country kind of art.
And as example of the will power we have the similar example as Robb Dunfield. In the Russian school program is the story that knows every pupil. It is story about pilot Maresyew. He was fighting at his airplane when had catastrophe and he had lost his two legs. But after hospital he began to fly at the military plane again, without legs. It is well-known story of the Russian writer, Boris Polevoy, “The story about the real man.”