Brush Mouth Artist
Lucianne Goodin Shoffner
“Dear God, please give me something to do.” This heartfelt prayer was answered in Bill Jerry’s life. Art was his favorite subject in high school, he got into hand work, but he could use his arms and hands at that time. Stricken with Muscular Dystrophy, until he was 40 he could walk and hold a job. At 60, he lost even partial use of his arms and hands as well.
“The only thing I could do was play bingo, with help,” Bill explained, “so I prayed.” He must have had some talent, because he began painting by holding a paintbrush in his mouth. He still gets help with putting the paint out on the palette, and getting the paint on the brush, but the rest is all Bill.
He had God-given talent, but doing it with his mouth...it was hard at first. “I tried to paint, and after practice, people could recognize it!’ Bill elaborated, “I have to give God the credit, I just use my mouth and the brush, I paint from memories and from photos.”
Bill’s art is considered primitive art, but it is good. He has to practice, but as he says, ‘practice makes perfect!’ He wants to be recognized as a ‘legit artist’, and his artwork in watercolor has been shown and is for sale at the Dyersburg State Campus Library in Covington. He hopes to encourage others who have limited use of their hands and arms, and would even consider teaching people with limited budgets to use paint to let them see beyond their current capabilities.
Brush Mouth Art is what Bill Jerry calls ‘his style’. “I like to paint all kinds of things, landscapes, I fool around with a little abstract from time to time,” he explained as he pointed out his art entitled, Lava, Flower Power, and another called Strange Trees. Depending on the subject, his art can take from three days to less than an hour. “It just depends on how much detail I need to put into a painting.” He explained, “If I set my mind to it, I can paint in an hour - some things are just fun to paint.”
Lots of obstacles were overcome, even to learn to paint. “I didn’t know for sure that I could paint until about three years ago, I couldn’t paint with my hands.” Continuing, he added, “I’m mostly self taught, a professional artist spent one lesson with me, but I figured it out.”
The first silhouette that he did was of Jesse, one of two therapy dogs that visit Magnolia Center in Covington. You can actually see the love between the dog and his human in the painting. It takes skill and passion to bring that forward on canvas. “I love Jesse, and I think that came through in the painting, it’s easier to paint something that you see, know, and love.” He smiled as he continued, “I think I’m going to try to paint some Tobacco sheds next. I used to visit Lebanon, TN when I was younger; it’s a happy memory, so I’ll be painting from memory.” He loves doing farm scenes as he was always an outdoors person, “And I like to do stuff people enjoy looking at!”
Bill also paints Dinosaurs and settings from that time period. He explained, “When I was a kid, Dinos were all I thought about. It’s something I’m interested in - I guess I’ve always been an animal lover.”
He spends about 2-3 hours per week painting, but would spend more time (all the time!) if he had a helper. He gives a lot of paintings to residents “Im proud of my work, I put my heart into it.” When he sells a painting, he prices it at $10 per hour spent painting.
He took his art to a meeting of the Tipton Co. Artists once, but he’d like to go again. Smiling he added, “I took my art to the meeting and they liked it, called it unique.”
One other thing he would like to do is a teaching video for handicapped people - techniques on how to paint. “Anybody can - make up your mind, give everything you’ve got and work with the things God has given you,”
Visitors are always welcome and encouraged. Mr Bill Jerry would love for you to come look at his work. Our thanks to Sarabeth Carson and Jesse who told us about this ‘Brush Mouth Artist’ as he calls himself. Jesse is a retired bomb detecting dog that has turned into a therapy dog - look for her story, and the story of Mollie, the other therapy dog at Magnolia in upcoming issues!