Artist Becky Guinn never thought about doing anything but art and art education – even after she woke up from a rather routine surgery to learn she no longer had arms or legs. Guinn will share her story with Walters State students at 12:40 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 24. The public is invited and the event is free.
For Guinn, a medical reaction turned a routine surgery into a nightmare, causing her to lose all four limbs. Still, she returned to her full-time high school art teaching position just seven months after quadruple amputations. And she started painting much sooner.
“My daughter and husband put cables above my elbow, where I had lost both of my arms. Then, we slipped the paintbrush under the cable to hold it in place. I could not imagine my life without art and it was great to know that wasn’t going to be the case,” Guinn said. The power of that paintbrush led her to some lofty goals.
“I lost my limbs in January and it became my main goal to be able to be back teaching when new school year started. From there, I just took it day-by-day. What can I do today to move me closer to that goal?” She said.
Guinn, who lives in Alabama, had a very widespread reputation as a good artist before the surgery in 2003 and she was eager to paint again. Her husband has family in East Tennessee and Guinn has often vacationed in the area, with Panther Creek State Park a favorite place for family reunions.
“My daughter asked me to paint her a painting of East Tennessee in the fall. I wanted to do a painting overlooking the top of Panther Creek State Park for her. I finished that painting and realized it was acceptable. The painting did not look like someone with no hands had painted it. That gave me so much hope.”
Guinn did have to be flexible in order to remain an independent artist. She had previously favored painting with oils but now works mainly in watercolors and watercolor pencils.
“With these, I do not have to use wrist movement. And I can paint by myself. With oils, someone put the paint on the pallet and mix paint. I also did pottery, basic sculptures and a lot of three-dimensional art when I had my hands. When the arms were replaced with prosthetic devices, I had to focus on where my talents worked best. Watercolor proved to be a good fit,” Guinn said.
Guinn is the first to admit that all of her recovery wasn’t like the beautiful landscapes she paints. She spent months in the hospital.
“Getting over (losing my limbs) required a big emotional push. At the time, I was afraid if I stopped, I would not get up again. Everyday I had to accomplish something or I was scared I would not make it,” she recalls.
“The hours seemed like days, the days like weeks and the weeks like months,” Guinn said.
“For me, honestly, it was my faith in God first. Then, I tried to focus on positive things everyday. I tried not to focus on my current situation, but on the future,” Guinn said.
Guinn retired from teaching in 2008, but she’s still doing plenty of work.
She volunteers with “Hooked on Art,” a program that integrates art into other disciplines of study from kindergarten through high school. The program is particularly timely, she noted, as many school systems are cutting art budgets.
“Every subject can include art. When you’re study science, students can draw animal habitats. Adding art doesn’t take anything away from the science. In fact, it adds another facet of learning, another method of teaching,” Guinn said.
Guinn continues to work and now she also supports the artwork of her granddaughter, young Sophie McDow. As a seven-year-old, McDown wrote and illustrated a book about her relationship with her grandmother. “Bebe and Me” stresses the importance of focusing on factors more important than appearance.
Guinn will speak about her life experience and share her artwork at Walters State’s International Lyceum, located in the Student Services Building on the Morristown campus. Tickets or reservations are not required. For more information on her appearance at Walters State, contact the Office of Student Affairs at (423) 318-2347.