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Tenacious Talent

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Paralyzed in a construction accident, this Longwood artist creates beautiful paintings in a most unusual way

Like many other artists, Bob Jones always had a knack for drawing. As a child, his favorite subjects to sketch were airplanes and cartoon characters. These days, Bob, now 65, prefers painting over drawing. When the Longwood man settles in with his canvases, paints, brushes, and other art supplies, the hours seem to fly by.

“I lose track of time. That’s a good thing, though,” says Bob, as he meticulously adds tiny dabs of blue, gray, and white to a painting-in-progress.

Unlike most other artists, though, Bob is unable to paint or draw with his hands. A former steel erector, he was paralyzed in a construction accident on May 1, 1984. The accident left Bob quadriplegic, meaning he suffered paralysis in his arms and legs. If Bob wants to create art, he uses a mouth stick – literally a long stick Bob holds in his mouth – that has been adapted to carry a paintbrush or pencil.

A couple of years after Bob was injured, one of his at-home nurses bought him a sketchpad and pencils and suggested he take up art.

“It was just something that sounded like it would be fun to do,” says Bob, who was already using a mouth stick to sign            his name.

So, he enrolled in an oil painting class in Altamonte Springs, which was taught by another disabled artist. Later, Bob took a watercolor painting class at Harry P. Leu Gardens in Winter Park. His wife, Linda, was a volunteer there at the time.

“He was the best one in the whole class,” says a proud Linda, who married Bob about a year before the accident.
More recently, Bob’s paintings caught the eye of Lynne Breckon, a member of the Rotary Club of Casselberry. She coordinates the club’s annual calendar contest, which features the work of local artists.

Each year, the winning paintings are showcased in the calendar and are displayed for a month at the Casselberry Art House. With encouragement from Linda and Lynne, Bob submitted his artwork for consideration. In back-to-back years, judges selected one of his paintings for inclusion in the calendar.

Last year, Bob was the calendar artist for the month of April. The chosen painting depicts two elderly men playing checkers at a farmers market surrounded by bins of produce, workers, a shopper, and several dogs and cats. This year, Bob is the calendar artist for September. His cheerful, pastel-colored painting is of a group of adults and kids relaxing and playing at a beachside surf shack.

“Bob was so excited when he won a spot in the 2016 calendar,” Lynne recalls. “It’s amazing how he can get so detailed using a mouth stick.”

The consecutive exhibits at the Art House are the only times Bob’s work has been publicly exhibited – so far.

At a recent reception honoring the 2017 artists, Bob spent much of the evening autographing calendars for admirers.

“Everyone wanted to hear his story and to speak with him,” says Lynne, who describes Bob’s paintings as having a charming, folk-art quality. “Some professionals are too professional. You can relate to Bob’s work.”

His favorite subjects include airplanes, of course, just like when he was a kid. In addition to being a steelworker, Bob was also a private pilot before his accident.

Prints of his artwork are available for purchase. However, none of the originals is for sale because those belong to Linda, Bob’s son, and other family members. 

An Orlando native, Bob is the eldest of five siblings. Besides oils and watercolors, he also likes painting with acrylics. He hasn’t taken any art classes recently, but he watches how-to art shows and videos on public television and YouTube.
When the urge to paint strikes, Bob’s nurses help by setting up a mini-studio in his aviator-themed bedroom. His easel, canvas, paints, and water bowl are arranged on a table in front of his wheelchair, all within easy reach of the mouth stick that Bob clenches with his teeth.

Bob uses a variety of references for his paintings, from pictures in magazines and catalogs to photos taken by Linda. Most importantly, he relies heavily on his own imagination.

“Artwork is in your head,” Bob says. “You just have to figure out a way to convey it.”

Bob also incorporates elements of humor into his artwork whenever possible.

“The world is way too serious,” he says.

One of Bob’s favorite artistic pastimes is simple but sweet – coloring with his granddaughter during her visits.

“She loves to color,” Bob says. “When she comes here, I put a crayon in the mouth stick and we just color away.”

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