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Guest Artist Showcases Painting Skills, Perseverance in Phoenix Schools

PHOENIX, NY – Phoenix students are learning much more than drawing and painting in Kathy Lambert’s classroom, as guest artist Dennis Pullen recently provided them with a lesson in perseverance.

David Hollenback holds a makeshift easel for classmate Jayden Grant, who paints with his mouth.
David Hollenback holds a makeshift easel for classmate Jayden Grant, who paints with his mouth.

Pullen, a quadriplegic painter who has received numerous awards for his work, met with Michael A. Maroun Elementary students to share his story about how he turned tragedy to triumph.

Despite an accident that left him paralyzed from the neck down, Pullen refused to give up doing the things that make him happy.

He holds a job, works to improve lives for people with disabilities and is a talented artist.

“We’re more alike than we are different,” he said to a class of fourth graders. “Sure, we have some differences – I’m in a wheelchair – but there are a lot more ways we are alike. We all like to go on vacations, watch movies, go on rides, hang out with friends, play on the computer … lots of things.”

Pullen noted that he wants to be defined by his abilities rather than his disabilities.

One of those abilities includes a talent to create award-winning artwork.

Equipped with a special easel, Pullen places a paintbrush in his mouth and drags it across a canvas to create his masterpieces.

The finished products – often entered into contests and adorned with ribbons – usually take between six months to a year to complete.

The hard work, however, is well worth it, he said.

“Practice always makes perfect,” Pullen said. “If someone tells me I can’t do something, I work to prove them wrong. You can do pretty much anything you set your mind to.”

That message resonated with the Phoenix students, who watched in amazement as Pullen demonstrated his painting technique.

The students then had their chance to paint using only their mouth to hold the “brush.

”Holding a Q-tip with their lips, students dipped one end in paint and proceeded to create their own works of art.

“This is so hard,” said student Taisia Marasco. “I don’t know how he does it.”

Like Pullen, the students kept trying and didn’t give up.