SARANAC - When Jack Stone was left paralyzed from the neck down following a stock car racing accident nearly 27 years ago, it was a challenge he was determined to overcome. One way was through the world of art.
It was in 1989 when his nurse's aide suggested he start painting, using his mouth to control his paintbrush. Reluctant at first, Stone gave it a try and soon found he enjoyed it.
"I put my brain to work," he said. "And, I'm getting so I really love it now. I've come a long way."
The average painting takes Stone anywhere from a few hours to as many as 40 hours, depending on its complexity, he said. His specialty is painting landscapes, though Stone said he recently began trying portraits - particularly his own.
"I figured I'd do one of myself because I know what I look like," Stone said, laughing.
However, Stone said he found it wasn't as easy as he originally thought. It's taken him about five months to get a basic rendering of himself, with drawing features like the mouth, chin and nose being his major challenges.
"I've had more nose jobs in that thing than Joan Rivers," he said. "I've got about a half-inch of paint in that area. It's going to look 3-D when I get done with it."
It's Stone's sense of humor that's gotten him through the major adjustment to his life. It's also gotten him through many other challenges he's had to face along the way, including losing his wife when she was only 37 years old, losing two children and having his home and his business, Stone's Smoke House and Meat Market, devastated by fire years ago.
"I still find a way to smile," said Stone.
That's because, through it all, Stone has learned to not take anything for granted and live each day to its fullest.
"Every day is precious. That's why they named it 'the present.' It's a gift," he said. "If you don't look at it that way, you ain't got a grasp on what life's all about."
Stone credits his positive outlook on life and his abilities to support he's received from family and friends, and also from the Association of Mouth and Foot Painting Artists. Since 1996, Stone has been a member of the Atlanta-based organization, which works with people who have lost use of their hands and now paint with their mouths and feet.
"They've been in business over 50 years and have artists in 80 countries," explained Stone, who considers himself an ambassador for the association.
Stone is one of only 60 artists the organization knows of in the United States who paints the way he does. Though, that's something he'd like to see change for those facing situations similar to his, he said.
"When an 18-year-old kid breaks his neck and wonders what he's going to do the rest of his life, it's important he knows he can do something like become an artist and make a living and support a family," said Stone, adding organizations like AMFPA are there to offer encouragement.
If nothing else, Stone said he wants others to know that losing the use of your hands or feet isn't the end of the world.
"I always say, I can't climb a mountain, but I can sure paint one," he said.
(Editor's Note: Stone is looking for a place to exhibit some of his artwork prior to sending it to Switzerland this June to be authenticated by the AMFPA. Those interested in hosting his artwork may contact him at 293-7303.)