Quadriplegic learns to paint by using his mouth
by Mark Ledbetter
CHILDERSBURG — Robbie Scarbrough was an artist before he fell off a ladder in 2004. After rehabilitation, encouragement from his mother, Peggy Carpenter, and sheer desire, the quadriplegic continues to paint by using his mouth.

“I love it,” Scarbrough said.

The former roofer fell from a ladder, resulting in his being paralyzed from the chest down. After rehabilitation at Knollwood in Mobile and a short stay at Lakeshore in Birmingham, Scarbrough has lived at Goodwater Health Center the last four years.

Scarbrough said his mother walked into his room with paint brushes and paint one day and told him he was going to paint. “He always loved to draw,” Carpenter said.

Mastering a remote “stick” in his mouth, Scarbrough said he runs everything with the remote, including his TV and other devices. After practicing with pencil and brush, he produced his first piece, which his mother now has.

“He cried,” Carpenter said. “He was so joyous when he realized this was an open door. He saw he could do it and it encouraged him.”

Scarbrough uses paper to sketch his work by pencil and paints outdoor scenes on power saw blades. Scarbrough said he visualizes what he wants to paint or draw and then just transfers those visions to paper or saw blade.

Goodwater Healthcare Center Activities director Gwen Stockdale shared in a written statement Scarbrough’s impact on other residents at the center. She said Scarbrough has shared his artistic ability with other residents at the facility. She said his “meet no stranger” personality has endeared him to other residents and serves as a source of encouragement to them.

Stockdale said in 2011 Scarbrough designed a picture depicting a waterfall that was converted to screen-art and transferred to T-shirts, which were worn by other residents as they celebrated National Nursing Home Week.

“The shirts, which the residents still wear, continue to remind each of us what one individual can do to influence the lives of others,” Stockdale said.

She said that with the assistance of others Scarbrough selects the pencil, brush and colors for his work.

“To watch him as he quietly works is amazing,” Stockdale said. “What begins as a straight line turns into an ocean, a waterfall, a mountain or a sunset.”

Scarbrough’s artwork is on display at the Earle A. Rainwater Memorial Library in Childersburg. Children’s librarian Susan Carpenter said Scarbrough’s work is on display as part of the library’s bi-monthly program that displays patrons’ and area artists’ work.

“We are honored,” Carpenter said. “He has a talent and to be able to draw with his mouth, I admire somebody like that.”

Scarbrough said his next piece will be a painting of his home church in Washington County, the Barlow Methodist Church.

Scarbrough said he also hopes to visit local schools and warn young people about drug abuse. He said smoking marijuana opened him up to harder drugs such as crack and meth.

“I want to go to talk at schools about what drugs has done to me,” Scarbrough said. “If it meant for me to be in a wheelchair to serve God, then that’s what I want to do.”

Contact Mark Ledbetter at mledbetter@dailyhome.com.

© 2013