David Bruce: The Funniest People in Art — People with Handicaps, Photography

People with Handicaps

• While fighting in World War I as a member of the African-American Hell Fighters of the 369th Regiment, painter Horace Pippin was wounded by a German sniper as he dove into a shell hole. A French soldier came by, looked in the hole, then was shot by the sniper and fell dead on top of Mr. Pippin, who had lost so much blood that he was unable to move the French soldier off of himself. Eventually, Mr. Pippin was rescued and a steel plate was put in his right shoulder. Of course, his right arm was weak and stiff after the injury, and it looked as if he would never create art again. However, at home one day he noticed a poker resting in the fire that kept his house warm. The tip of the poker was white-hot, and Mr. Pippin discovered that he could hold the cool end of the poker with his right arm, rest the poker on his knee, and create a burnt drawing by using his left arm to hold a wooden plank up to the white-hot poker. He managed to create several burnt-wood panels that way, including his first: Losing the Way.

• In 1897, José Clemente Orozco was a 14-year-old boy living in Mexico City, Mexico. Like other boys his age, he was curious about fireworks and gunpowder, and when he was alone one day, he experimented. Suddenly, the gunpowder exploded, blowing three fingers off his left hand and also badly injuring his right hand. Young Clemente ended up having his left hand amputated, and he nearly lost his right hand as well. In addition, his sight and hearing were damaged. For the rest of his life, he was forced to wear thick glasses, and he never regained hearing in his left ear. Nevertheless, he became one of Mexico’s foremost painters, gaining special renown for his murals. In 1947, he won Mexico’s National Prize in the Arts and Sciences, and when he died in 1949, he was given the honor of burial in the Rotunda de los Hombres Illustres (Rotunda of the Illustrious Men).

• Al Capp, creator of the comic strip Li’l Abner, had a wooden leg, which occasionally created embarrassing situations for him. One morning, at the Savoy Hotel in London, he lay in bed as a waiter took his breakfast order. Because Mr. Capp was well covered with bedding, the waiter could not tell that he had only one leg, but the waiter did notice the foot of Mr. Capp’s wooden leg, clothed in a shoe and a stocking, sticking out from under the bed. In fact, the waiter stared at it. Becoming aware that Mr. Capp was watching him stare at the leg, the waiter recovered his composure, finished taking Mr. Capp’s order, then said, “Very good, sir. And what will the other gentleman have?”

• Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, the little person who became a great Impressionist painter, once did a series of lithographs featuring singer Yvette Guilbert, who was not beautiful. As Ms. Guilbert looked over the lithographs, she noticed that Mr. Toulouse-Lautrec had made some things grotesque, and so she said to him, “Really, you have a genius for depicting deformity!” He replied, “But of course.”


• As a wildlife photographer, M. Timothy O’Keefe had to be a patient man, as it took days or weeks to photograph the scenes he wanted. He also had to be quick, as taking the actual photograph took a fraction of a second. To focus his camera ahead of time, he used to tape his driver license to something in the scene he would photograph, such as a tree limb, focus on the license, then remove it. In 1979, he wanted to photograph an owl with a freshly caught mouse, so he picked a tree branch where an owl might enjoy a meal, focused his camera, then waited in a blind. One night, he heard a squeak of a mouse, then the owl settling on the branch. He tripped the shutter, four strobe lights illuminated the branch, and he had the photograph he wanted. Well, almost. Yes, he had photographed the owl and the mouse, but he had also photographed his driver license, which he had forgotten to remove from the tree limb.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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