Quadriplegic artist robert rycroft uses his mouth to create ‘amazing art’

Robert Rycroft loves creating watercolors that make people happy.

“Painting makes me happy, joyful,” says Rycroft, a quadriplegic who paints with his mouth. “Being creative, everything else just fades away.”

Rycroft grew up in Chehalis, Washington. A quick learner, he turned his talents to becoming a jack-of-all-trades. In 1983, a surfing accident changed his life completely when he became paralyzed from the neck down.

Following his hospital stay, Rycroft rehabilitated at Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center in Downey, Calif. While there, he met two mouth painters, including quadriplegic artist Robert Thome.

On his website, Thome speaks of “prayer, hard work and determination” as the three traits to apply to life’s challenges.

“This is how I got my start,” says Rycroft, who started painting with a mouth stick.

Rycroft was further inspired by Christian artist Joni Eareckson Tada. A diving accident in 1967 left Tada a quadriplegic. Today, she is an internationally-known mouth artist, vocalist, radio host, and author of 17 books. Tada has her own ministry through which she advocates for disabled persons worldwide.

Using his special chair that moves in all directions, Rycroft now paints with a liner brush.

“If you know anything about painting, the brush has very few hairs in it,” says friend Linda Schellenberg. “Doing a whole painting with a liner brush is nothing short of amazing to me.”

Rycroft’s favors painting nature — landscapes, flowers, birds, animals, sunsets and Christmas scenes, as well as wildlife and coastal scenes. His artwork has been displayed in national exhibitions and at art festivals, and many of his paintings have been sold.

Several of the paintings are exhibited around the world to support disabled people.

Rycroft donated several of his paintings to help support the Mouth and Foot Painting Artists, an international for-profit association, wholly owned and operated by disabled artists to help them meet their financial needs. He’s also belonged to art associations and won a third-place award at the Oregon State Fair.

Two of Rycroft’s works are displayed at Avamere Transitional Care at Sunnyside in Salem.

“Before Robert started getting severe back spasms, he was a man on the go, using public transportation,” Schellenberg says. “He would go all over the city, talking with strangers and seeing the sites.”

“A big accomplishment for me is to finish a painting, no matter how frustrating it can be sometimes,” Rycroft says. “Painting gives me self-worth. It gives me great joy using God’s gift.”

“Joy, contentment and love — that is what Robert is all about,” Schellenberg says.

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