Could you create a colorful and creative painting… using no hands?
That was the task set forth recently for students at the Crown Road Campus. Walking into a conference room, students saw a variety of neon-bright paintings with colors that blended together seamlessly, depicting detailed scenes of landscapes, trains, animals, and even SpongeBob SquarePants.
The canvasses were the work of Dennis Pullen, an artist from the city of Oswego who is paralyzed from the neck down. Pullen visited OCM BOCES in March to share his story of overcoming hardship, outlining the history of the accident in 1987 that now requires him to use a wheelchair to get around and a ventilator to breathe. Pullen was just six years old when he was hit by a car as he walked home from school in a snowstorm. But with his art surrounding him, Pullen’s story proved to be one of resilience and success. Through his talks at local schools in the region, Pullen sheds light on disability awareness issues while teaching students about the importance of believing in themselves and never setting limits.
Pullen began his presentation by sharing his past, talking about the things he used to do before the accident. Then he asked questions about his life now. Do you think I can travel? Play games? Go on vacation? Pullen’s answers — a resounding yes to all — allowed students to reflect on the limitations Pullen experiences, but also see how his positive attitude has been a key factor in overcoming those limitations.
One of the first challenges Pullen worked to overcome was learning to paint. When he first began, using just his mouth to grip and manipulate a paintbrush, his work displayed a darker theme, with darker colors and images matching his darker outlook on life. Over time, as he gained confidence in his artistry skills, Pullen gained a much more positive outlook on life, switching to neon colors that matched his brighter outlook.
In addition to painting, Pullen has been able to develop a more independent lifestyle, thanks to the help of his long-time nurse, Kelly Woolson. Pullen now lives in a house that is fully handicap accessible. His house has an art studio so he can work and showcase his paintings.
About 50 students from Crossroads, Reach, and middle-school Special Education programs attended Pullen’s talk. In the end, students experienced first-hand how Pullen is able to paint using just his mouth. Students worked with a partner to place Q-tips in their mouths, dip them into the paint, and scrawl out a scene.
“Practice really does make perfect,” said Pullen, as he observed the students working to create their pieces.
As students struggled to create even simple lines, they felt a new appreciation for what Pullen overcame to create such detailed artwork. It also gave them a better understanding of how their attitude can help them overcome challenges in their own lives.
“I learned a lot,” one student said. “To be able to see how Dennis paints, it was great to watch.”
The presentation concluded with Pullen and Woolson both reflecting on how Pullen’s outlook is consistently one of growth, as he always pushes himself to be the best he can be.
“I don’t let anything stop me from doing anything I want to do,” said Pullen.