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Motlow student paints without use of hands

Posted on Tuesday, November 6, 2012 at 5:39 pm

Mary’s paintings and drawings hang on display at the Antiques, Arts & Collectibles Mall on the square in Shelbyville.

Motlow College art student Mary Cox Pace was born with arthrogryposis – a neuro-musculo-skeletal disorder that most people would call a disability but Mary hasn’t let it stop her.

Although arthrogryposis made Mary a quadriplegic and robbed her of personal mobility, it didn’t dare take much else from the feisty little woman who gets where she wants to go in a motorized wheelchair and has only three percent use of her left arm and seven percent use of her right.

Arthrogryposis didn’t take Mary’s determination or courage. And it certainly didn’t take her sense of humor, intelligence and energy – an amazing trio that has led her to become a published author, editor, illustrator, photographer, teacher and National Art Award recipient.

Mary uses a mouth stick to take notes, type manuscripts, and to take pictures, she carefully pushes the “shoot” button on her camera with her chin.

During her independent art class at Motlow, she uses mouth sticks made for her by her instructor, Eric Claunch. The five-piece set is made from dowel rods, stuffed fabric pieces of varying widths, pen parts, and glue.

“We have worked collaboratively in order to create tools for compressed charcoal, vine charcoal and a couple of blending tools which she can use for charcoal drawings,” Claunch said. “Mary is a hard working artist and is very receptive to feedback. She has made significant improvements in her observational skills and her ability to push past her comfort zone.”

Mary’s work caught the attention of an international group earlier this year.

“This summer, a representative of the International Mouth and Foot Painting Artists interviewed me and told me that I’m gifted,” Mary said. “The organization gave me a grant for three years along with the possibility of advancing to associate member status, which includes a salary.”

The MFPA, according to the organization’s website, is “an international, for-profit association owned and operated by disabled artists to help them meet their financial needs.”

Mary said she is honored to be affiliated with such a prestigious group and to have her art valued by other artists. Her work can be seen on her website, The Opportunity to be Real, at, or in the Antiques, Arts & Collectibles Mall on the square in Shelbyville. Her paintings, drawings and books are for sale in her booth there, and if lucky, shoppers will find Mary there as well.

She works in several mediums, including ink, oil, acrylic, and watercolor, but she prefers ink and said she is partial to Faber-Castell ink brush pens and Sharpie permanent thin tips. Mary’s subjects are numerous, from flowers to nature scenes, but many of her drawings include the sea and sea life. This is not surprising since Mary grew up on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, where the Chesapeake Bay is not far from everyone’s front yard.

Never Be Ashamed
She said she was taught not to complain or feel sorry for herself by her parents, who have strong work ethics. Her father is a retired Maryland state policeman and her mother is a retired Maryland state administrator. When she was a child, Mary’s father carried her on his shoulders and introduced her to people wherever they went.

“He told me many times to never be ashamed of who I am because I have nothing to be ashamed about,” Mary said.

Her extensive education includes a master’s degree in theology and a doctorate in biblical studies from Northwestern Theological Seminary. She has written and published six books – four with a Christian theme – and also has written newspaper columns and articles for many publications. In addition, she has taught writing classes on the college level and teaches online classes through the Leader in Virtual Studies website.

In one of her classes, which focuses on the power of humor, Mary wrote what might be her life’s philosophy: “Though often unnoticed, humor is rooted in much of the Bible. It is no surprise that little has been written on the subject matter. Nevertheless, humor continues to be valuable in communication–tearing down obstacles, encouraging ideas, and challenging people to consider different approaches to life issues.”