A portrait of helping hands

Tina Comeau
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Quadriplegic doesn’t let life’s circumstances stand in her way.

By Tina Comeau




She moves her brush across the canvas adding a wisp of colour here and a spatter of colour there.

Yet all the while her arms remain motionless by her side, laying on the armrests of her wheelchair.

Jessica Amirault started painting when she was around nine years old. It was something her mother helped her learn how to do. But while she’s able to use one finger to control her electric wheelchair, she’s never been able to hold a paintbrush in her hand.

She’s never swept the brush across the canvas with a graceful movement of her wrist.

Instead, the 25-year-old who was born with cerebral palsy and is a quadriplegic clenches the paintbrush between her teeth. She controls her brushstrokes with a tilt, or a nodding, of her head, or with the movement of her mouth, as she securely holds the paintbrush in place. Her paintbrush is inserted into a mouthpiece.

Yes, she uses a wheelchair. But Amirault doesn’t focus on what she can’t do.

She focuses on what she can.

She can paint a sunset.

She can paint a lighthouse.

She can paint rainbows in the sky.

A sampling of Amirault’s artwork will be on display in the lobby of Th’YARC Dec. 4-14. The Yarmouth Art Society has been very supportive in seeing this show take place.

Asked about the reaction that she hopes people will have to her artwork, she says as they study it, and as they think about the person responsible for it, she hopes they’ll think to themselves, “Wow, that’s amazing.” She also hopes that what she is capable of doing will be an inspiration to others.

Amazing is what Dan Earle thinks about when he describes this young woman. Once a week for the past six months he has been going to Yarmouth Lifeskills for Disabled Adults, a facility whose goal is to help people with disabilities live and work with dignity.

It’s here that Amirault spends her days, doing things around the facility to help out when she’s not participating in the programming that’s offered.

And it’s here where she paints.

“Jessica is producing a special form of folk art by overcoming what for many would be a completely disabling condition,” says Earle. “She is a joy to work with, has a great sense of humour and produces some striking work.”

But what she doesn’t have is the use of her hands.

And so Earle is her hands.

He mixes paint colours for her. He dips her brush into the paints. He then sets the mouthpiece between her lips.

A sampling of Jessica Amirault’s artwork will be on display in the lobby of Th’YARC Dec. 4-14. In addition to exhibiting her paintings, she will also be launching a book of her paintings on Saturday. Dec. 8, from 2-4 p.m.

But as far as the decisions about colour, or the direction of a painting, he leaves that up to her.

“She makes the suggestions and I help her do what she wants to do,” Earle says.

“I really appreciate the spirit she has for painting and that she enjoys doing it,” he adds. “Having painted a lot myself I know how much work and concentration it takes to do this type of thing, and she certainly has a desire and a talent to do it.”

In addition to exhibiting her paintings, Amirault will also be launching a book of her paintings on Saturday. Dec. 8, from 2-4 p.m.

The proceeds from the book sales and the sale of her paintings in the exhibit will help to purchase her art supplies.

“I think people are going to be very surprised at the quality of the paintings,” says Earle. “It’s really Jessica speaking through her artwork so I think people are going to like that and appreciate that.”

As for Amirault, even when she’s got her paintbrush clenched between her teeth it can’t stop her from doing what comes naturally when she’s painting.

And that is to smile.



Organizations: Yarmouth Art Society

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