Paralyzed painter inspires others with art, success - FOX Carolina 21

Paralyzed painter inspires others with art

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Marcus Thomas uses his mouth to control the paintbrush. (File/FOX Carolina) Marcus Thomas uses his mouth to control the paintbrush. (File/FOX Carolina)

Each color is painstakingly chosen. Each brush stroke is deliberate. Marcus Thomas's art lines the walls of his house, and he's always looking for that next thing to paint.

"I fell in love with the process," he said. "I focused on things I enjoy - the outdoors, landscapes, birds - and then it began to really take off, and really take form."

That form he's painting comes from intense concentration and vision - and from his mouth. Marcus Thomas can't move his hands, or anything else below his neck.

"26 years ago, I broke my neck snow-skiing," he said. Marcus Thomas described his young self as a happy-go-lucky type, always on the go. He had been dating his girlfriend Anne for four years.

Anne would eventually become his wife.

"We both liked the outdoors," she said. "We did a lot of bike riding, we love to ski, kayak. You know, it really was just - you know, loving life, living life, and enjoying ourselves."

But on March 3, 1986, the day of that skiing accident, she had to make a call to Marcus's parents that to this day makes her emotional to think about.

"I had to tell them that Marcus was injured," she said, holding back tears. "He had already lost a brother, so it was tough."

What followed was months upon months of recovery. Doctors didn't know if Marcus would make it, but they knew for certain he'd never walk again.

"My neck was broken. The fourth and third cervical vertebrae. I was dependent on a respirator," he said.

And with that, a new path began. But boredom would eventually get the best of Marcus Thomas. And as the story goes, art came into his life merely on a fluke.

"We were just playing around at an office supply store, and saw these watercolors," Anne said. "We thought, 'let's give that a try.'"

SLIDESHOW: See Thomas at work, some of his paintings

Some of Marcus's first paintings are, by his own admission, juvenile. "Unskilled, the drawing was very loose, childlike." He described the paintings as something a third-grader would paint.

"You look back at his early paintings and you'll be like, 'Why did somebody think they could continue doing this?', but I think it was a love at first sight with the painting, and he fell in love with it," Anne said.

"The deeper I got into the process, the realization that if I wanted to do a bird, and do it correctly, I better understand the bird," said Marcus.

Over time, you can see the progression in his art. From those 'juvenile' paintings, he has created beautiful and detailed pieces of art.

Everything that has led Marcus and Anne to where they are today, they say it's all chance. From the first watercolors, to calendars and art shows, it's all been at the suggestion of others, and it's led them to success.

"Art was certainly something that was never a part of my life, and it was really never a part of Marcus's life," Anne said. "It wasn't planned. There was no 'a-ha' moment, it just happened."

And it's now a business. But it's also a personal partnership between these two that has defined this husband and wife - one they both said has led them to where they are today.

"He can't move, but he is the same Marcus that he was when I met him," Anne said.

It's also an attitude that no matter what your circumstance, if you have the vision, you have to take things one step, and one day, at a time.

"He is so happy to wake up every day, and I think part of it is painting. Of course, I think it's me, and the dog, and everything, but it's that passion, he has that drive," said Anne.

"That youthfulness, I don't want to let go of. It keeps my mind fresh, my heart beating at the right pace," Marcus said.

Marcus and Anne Thomas are working to put the finishing touches on a book. It chronicles the life and times of the couple, as well as incorporating his art into it, from the beginning to the present. It's due out later this year.

His work has also been chosen as this year's pick for the Biltmore Estate Christmas wine label.

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