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Smiling sun Shirley learns a new way to paint!

Shirley Patton from Bartlett, Tennessee, USA has MS and is a quadriplegic. Her symptoms mean that Shirley does not have very much use of her arms any more, and this made painting in the usual way impossible.

Undeterred by the obstacles MS put in her path, Shirley found a new favourite hobby. She has learned how to paint with pastel pencils using her mouth instead of her hands!


Shirley Patton Shirley was born in 1947. Before being diaganosed with MS aged 41, she "lived a full and healthy life", playing the piano and organ.

Shirley graduated from college with a degree in English, and later owned her own business in the field of medical transcription. She is divorced and has a daughter.

When Shirley was diagnosed with chronic progressive MS she says her life "changed rather quickly". She was no longer able to transcribe and found herself on Social Security Disability. Over the past 15 years Shirley's condition has progressed and she is now quadriplegic.

Shirley's friend Liz is a wonderful artist and Shirley mentioned to her one day that it "might be fun to paint with my mouth". Liz told the other members of the church they both attended about Shirley's new ambition. The church members donated money to buy art supplies and an easel and table for Shirley to use.

"I was overwhelmed with their generosity and also almost felt an obligation to succeed", Shirley said. "God was moulding my life in a new direction."

Shirley began trying to manipulate pastel pencils with her mouth. "It was more difficult than I had thought!"

One of Shirley's picturesFirst, she tried to draw a straight line. Instead, it was a very crooked line. She then proceeded to circles, boxes, and triangles. Finally, she began drawing pictures that "looked like a young child had drawn them".

Shirley faithfully practised every day with the help of her mother who loaded her mouthpieces with pencils and sharpened them when needed. Shirley found that with daily practice she was improving, slowly.

A year later, Liz mentioned Shirley's new hobby to her dentist. He happened to have a calendar by the Mouth and Foot Painting Artists Association (MFPA). He told Liz to ask Shirley to contact these people.

Shirley contacted the MFPA, submitted some of her paintings for review, and in 1996 was accepted as a student of the Association.

Shirley Patton Shirley says, "This has made an amazing difference in the life of someone who is unable to do things for herself. I feel creative again, useful and take great pride in my work. I hope to become a full member in the MFPA one day and eventually I hope to be able to support myself financially, even with the added costs of living with a disability."

Shirley says she feels 'uniquely-abled' instead of disabled. "Others who have MS might be interested in mouth and foot painting. If I can do it, anyone can!"

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