Quiet Desperation

Art’s reward is the gift of other people


Matt and I won a prize. You still have a chance to see our prize winner at the Lone Tree Arts Center.

We collaborated on an art project for a juried exhibition that will be up until Nov. 26. Because of the prize, we will be included in the exhibition that follows as well.

I have been winding down my art career for the past two years by collaborating with other artists, two of my (deceased) mentors, and former students.

The career began at a kitchen table in Pennsylvania a hundred years ago, and got me as far as UCLA, and three teaching positions.

It has also provided me with homes, cars, turtlenecks and toothbrushes. Everything, really.

And it led me to Matt Hendrick. I might have read the article about him even if I weren’t an artist, but when I found out that he paints with a brush in his mouth, I knew I wanted to communicate with him, to meet him, and to make him an offer.

We communicated, we met, and we collaborated.

Even though it was created apart in our own studios, it became a harmonic duet.

We worked separately on small, wood panels. He went first, and an assistant delivered his panels to me. I added mine, in some degree of similarity, glued them side by side, and gave them a title.

“Never Known” is on a back wall at the center, with a first-prize ribbon beneath it the size of an apron.

The center’s events director, Allissa Dailey, arranged a wonderful reception for the exhibit. Jennifer and I arrived before Matt did, and we kept the news of the prize to ourselves until he had a chance to see the ribbon for himself.

Matt’s not crazy about crowds, and there was a possibility he wouldn’t attend, but the front doors opened, and I watched a friend of his push his wheelchair inside.

I introduced him to Jennifer, and then we led him back to our painting, which I had completed in my studio — and he had not seen.

I watched his face.

He looked happy and pleased and proud.

I looked at Jennifer and we both might have teared up a little.

During Parent Weekend in 1991 at the Rochester Institute of Technology where he was pursuing photography, Matt was airlifted by helicopter from the crashed car his mother had been driving.

He returned to Colorado (he graduated from Rangeview High School in 1989), paralyzed from the neck down.

He spent six months at Swedish Medical Center and Craig Hospital.

At first he tried to reconnect with photography, but maybe that was too easy. You can click a camera with almost anything.

Why not try to mix oil paint with a palette stick in your mouth?

Why not try to create distinctive portraits with a paintbrush in your mouth?

And that’s what he has been doing.

Perhaps the most well-known artist with limited mobility, Chuck Close, also paints portraits. Close had a “catastrophic spinal artery collapse” that left him partially paralyzed, but he is able to work with his hands, and continues to paint large-scale portraits that are placed in museums and private collections worldwide.

This ride Matt and I are on is one more immeasurable gift that art has given to me.

Craig Marshall Smith is an artist, educator and Highlands Ranch resident. He can be reached at craigmarshallsmith@comcast.net.


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