When Tim Muir first learned how to paint it wasn't with a paintbrush in his hand, it was with broccoli and carrots in his mouth.
Muir, 42, is a quadriplegic who was paralyzed in an automobile accident a year ago while returning from a Scouting trip in Spanish Fork Canyon. He has recently discovered the art of painting with his mouth. However, he now uses a real paintbrush."It takes my mind off my problems for a while," said Muir about his new skill. "It breaks up the monotony of the day."
Though Muir is becoming an accomplished artist, he can't do it alone. Nancy Collier, director of Provo-based New Outlook Associates Inc., visits Muir and other patients like him once or twice a week. She sets up the necessary materials, mixes the paint, puts the paintbrush in his mouth and coaches him while he creates.
Collier recruits volunteers with talent in a certain area and matches them to her patients' needs. Besides painting she also teaches creative writing, music or any other creative skill her patients want to learn. Collier has developed several different techniques tailored to specific disabilities which she teaches to her volunteers who in turn teach to her patients. Her patients range from a lonely 92-year-old woman who has learned how to paint to a young blind girl who has learned to sing and play the piano.
"When people first get injured they come home thinking things will be the same as they were before the accident," Collier said. "Then they realize they have a big adjustment to make."
When Collier first met Muir he wasn't in the mood to make any big adjustments and was afraid to try painting. But Collier wouldn't take `no' for an answer. To break the ice she pulled out broccoli for him to paint the leaves of a tree, and carrots to paint the trunk. "I hope you don't have President Bush's attitude toward broccoli," she remembers telling him. He laughed and finally decided to give it a try.
After three weeks Muir began using a real brush and was able to add more detail to his paintings.
"His paintings were so good I told him he was going to be as famous as the man in `My Left Foot.' I told him someone was going to want to make a movie about him someday," Collier said. When asked what he would call a movie about himself, he joked, "How about `My Big Mouth.'?"
Collier says laughter has been the best medicine for her patients. "I try to get them laughing and then they forget about their problems," she said.
Collier also teaches her patients self-esteem and how to develop inner-strength. "Everyone needs dignity in life. For most of my patients their lives are a nightmare. Many of them are helpless and don't have any control over their bodies. But when they learn how to paint or write or sing they have dignity again," she said.
For volunteer information please contact Nancy D. Collier, at 373-0811, or send contributions to "New Outlook" 434 South Idaho Ave., Provo, UT 84606.