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Painting anew

Nancy Hall of East Aurora never imagined her life as it is today. Any plans she had were inexorably altered on the night of May 21, 2000.

Before then, Nancy was a mother of five children. She home-schooled, ran a day-care business, waited tables, coached little league and was president of the PTA once her children were enrolled in public school. While riding with her husband on the back of their new motorcycle, a deer suddenly came into their path. Pronounced dead at the scene, it was on the way to the morgue that someone finally detected a faint pulse. A CT scan revealed a neck fracture at the C3 location. She was paralyzed from the neck downward.

She wasn’t even expected to breathe on her own ever again. Despite the dire prognosis, she left the hospital in a record 62 days. What gave her the fortitude? “My children and the power of God, literally. The nurse put the picture of my kids in front of me and he said ‘breathe.’ I wanted to see my kids. They said the kids can’t come up to trauma, and in order to get off the trauma floor I had to get off the (ventilator). They’re truly the wind beneath my wings, they are what carries me.”

Painting anew | Buffalo Magazine

Hall is now a member of Mouth Foot Painting Artists, an international association whose aim is to empower disabled artists to make a living.

Adjusting to her new wheelchair life showed Nancy she was stronger than she ever knew. Her husband was, before and after the accident, abusive. By 2002 she was divorced with full custody of the children. She’d spent years afraid she couldn’t take care of her kids on her own. In one a-ha moment, it became more important to model for them that this was not an acceptable way to live their own adult lives someday. “It took me to break my neck to get the strength and the will to say ‘no more.’”

Seeing her youngest struggle learning to write, Nancy put a pen in her mouth to demonstrate. Her children suggested she take this technique a step further with a paint brush and start painting.

Nancy says her first attempts were awful. What encouraged her to keep going? “God gave me a gift, that’s the only explanation I can give you. I went from bad to better. It just kept pouring out, I was so compelled to paint. I could tell my story, my sadness or joy, through my art. And I could give back the joy and encouragement that people have given me.”

She discovered Mouth Foot Painting Artists, an international association whose aim is to empower disabled artists to make a living. Through MFPA, selections of her work can be reproduced for greeting cards, calendars and other media. She’s also a member of the Arts and Craftsman Guild of the Roycroft Campus in East Aurora, showing her art there twice a year.

In 2016, Nancy added filmmaker to her list of accomplishments. She won second place in Buffalo with her entry to the 48 Hour Film Project competition entitled “When Life Gives You Lemons,” which can be found on YouTube.

Nancy’s ambient home studio is surrounded by windows providing an unobstructed survey of her garden, giant apple tree and the deer she has a love/hate relationship with. (They are graceful, but they do make lunch and dinner of her garden.) Using an original configuration concocted with a music stand and Velcro, she can be self-sufficient for hours. The view provides her with endless inspiration.

Nancy embraces the harder days, too. “When I’m sad I acknowledge that I’m sad.” She might allow herself a good two-hours-long cry, “then I wash my face and I go on.”

Her community has given their time, built a ramp at her home, driven her kids to sporting events: “The town helped me raise my children. I want to give back by having a good attitude, by inspiring abused women that you can do it. By inspiring disabled people and their caregivers that there’s more to life than just sitting there. The more I give, it makes my problems less.”

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