Against Long Odds ... Art: Injured Man Inspires

MADISON, Miss. (AP) — Dr. Angela Jones knew William Flewellen Heard's art would bring life to her family medicine practice at Baptist Medical Clinic when she saw his vibrant paintings hanging at Mississippi Medical Massage Therapy.

"In medicine, we see so many bad things, and we need something positive and happy," said Jones, a partner with Dr. Cynthia Garrett.

On a Thursday, Jones' massage therapist, Michael Boren, helped his friend Heard donate 22 pieces to hang in the halls, waiting room and exam rooms of the clinic.

Heard said he was honored to share his work with Baptist Medical Clinic. The 37-year-old Tupelo resident has been around art all his life and found his purpose after an automobile accident left him quadriplegic. Just being alive motivates Heard to paint. He paints so much that his electric wheelchair is a splattered hybrid of colors, and he uses over a gallon of paint on one canvas.

"I thank God every day that I'm here," he said. "Hospitals saved my life, so anytime I can brighten up the walls of a hospital is a good thing."

Heard's colorful and exuberant work includes abstracts, homes and landscapes, flowers, people, and butterflies. Butterflies are his trademark because they symbolize rebirth, something he experienced on March 14, 2000.

On that day in Tupelo, the auto accident threw Heard from the vehicle — he was unrestrained — breaking vertebrae in his neck. After three months in intensive care at Northeast Mississippi Medical Center in Tupelo, he was transferred to the Shepherd Center in Atlanta to begin rehab as a quadriplegic. In two years time he had to regain independence, strengthening himself mentally and physically with the help of therapists.

One such therapy was art, something Heard dabbled in as a teenager. He would spray paint baskets and children's furniture his mother decorated and sold at her store but never used a paintbrush. At Shepherd, Heard learned to tuck a paintbrush into a cuff, held loosely in his right palm. But frustration at being unable to steady the brush discouraged him and he sank into depression. Then he watched "Pollock," a film about painter Jackson Pollock and saw a dripping technique he wanted to try.

Thanks to surgery on his right wrist, Heard can grip a plastic spoon stuck in a Styrofoam ball to drizzle paint onto canvas, producing multi-colored streams and clumps. Before the accident, Heard was an athlete, enlisted in the Army National Guard and attended Mississippi State University for a degree in general business in furniture production (he finished there in 2004).

But immersing himself into art brought about a new self-awareness and passion. "I didn't realize how big the art world was, you wouldn't know it unless you were an artist," he said.

Heard has shown art at galleries and festivals in Charlotte, N.C.; Seaside, Fla.; New Orleans, Tupelo and Jackson. His studio at Daddy's Duck is filled with dozens of colors and magazines he reads for ideas. He's involved in Living Independence for Everyone, a statewide organization for people with disabilities and has a nonprofit, Our Artworks, teaching people with spinal cord injuries and traumatic brain injuries. A grant from Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services funds the organization.

"I have students that I teach every week. ... We do all types of art projects, paintings and collages," Heard said. "And I've gone to elementary schools and talk to them about how important it is to wear a safety belt."

As Boren helped hang the artwork around the clinic, Heard signed a painting Jones picked out for the lounge area. From a small cup he held, thick, taffylike paint fell effortlessly onto the canvas and onto his new pair of pants.

"I told William if we just put (his paintings) up in my clinic, one of my clients is going to see them and it will go further and it's going to grow," Boren said. "When you're having a bad day you look at that (painting) and you really can't complain. We appreciate Baptist for letting us display these."


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