Undeterred After Stray Bullet, the Artist Within is Reborn

By Ted Gregory
Chicago Tribune

In the past couple of years, about 20 paintings by Mariam Pare have been reproduced and sold internationally.

In February, she’ll be a featured artist in two shows. And, any day now, she expects to take a job that will pay her a comfortable salary to paint.

Those are intoxicating developments for any artist, especially Pare.

She paints with a brush in her mouth.

That’s how she has created art since 1997, a year after a stray bullet struck her spinal cord while she was driving and she watched her hands drop from the steering wheel.

In that instant, a promising young artist from Naperville, Ill., became a quadriplegic.

Pare, 38, has risen from that hopeless place by tapping the mysterious neurological pathways that allow creative expression to flow through a broken body.

Today she is an arts activist and teacher who survived a life-changing plunge into Lake Michigan while strapped in a wheelchair.

She’s also part of an exacting, profit-driven group of artists with disabilities who see in their work financial independence and life purpose.

“I paint out of … necessity, a compulsion,” Pare said one afternoon while working on a painting of a woman floating in a bubble. “I love doing it so much that I don’t think I have a choice in the matter really.” She laughed. “I paint because I love to paint.”

When she’s not struggling through daily life, working to expand community outreach for art or promoting its therapeutic value, Pare paints in a 10-by-10 room in a second-floor apartment near Naperville Road and Ogden Avenue.

She says if she were unable to paint with a brush loosely set between her teeth on the right side of her mouth, she probably would wear a helmet with a paintbrush and make that work.

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