Christmas is a time of celebration and giving; many exchange gifts with family and loved ones, others exchange cards with neighbours and friends. The Nativity scene, featuring the birth of Christ, is a prominent theme of such cards, and on November 3, 2000, Canada Post issued three commemorative stamps featuring Christmas Nativity scenes painted by disabled artists. As with previous issues, the stamps are in three denominations; the domestic rate ($0.46), US rate ($0.55), and the international rate ($0.95).
As defined by the World Health Organization, disability is the loss or reduction of functional ability and activity caused by an impairment. Approximately four million Canadians can be classified as disabled, and more and more of these individuals are discovering the therapeutic benefits of creatively expressing themselves through art. Those who have lost the use of their arms through illness, injury, or birth defect learn to write or draw using their feet or mouth; many tapping into previously dormant talent and undiscovered creativity.
Some artists choose to work independently, others join commercial organizations such as the Association of Mouth and Foot Painting Artists, which sells reproductions as greeting cards. A number of community galleries and art centres exist across the country to promote, educate, and showcase these remarkable artists, and to help bring their creative visions to light. Toronto''s Creative Spirit Art Centre is one such studio.
Striving for a Higher Profile
Identifying the work of a disabled artist - the most famous and accomplished - included is difficult because individuals present themselves as artists and not disabled artists. Art listings will seldom indicate whether an artist is disabled. Further, work by commercial artists, such as members of the Association of Mouth and Foot Painting Artists, tends not to be collected or displayed at major galleries. Ongoing lobbying efforts and the implementation of more disability-related supports and services are steps toward the recognition of these artists in mainstream society
The Nativity Theme
First represented in the 4th century, the Nativity is a theme in Christian art depicting the newborn Christ with the Virgin Mary and other figures, as described in the Bible. The theme is a prominent one in present-day Christian art, and an integral part of Christmas. This year marks the 2000th anniversary of Christs birth, an event which holds special significance for many across Canada.
An early victim of thalidomide, Theresa Helen "Susie" Matthias of London, Ontario, enjoys a very active life which includes horseback riding, swimming, and furthering her artistic career through the Association of Mouth and Foot Painting Artists . After being identified at a young age as having promising artistic talent, Matthias was privately tutored for several years then educated at a fine arts college. She excels in landscapes but considers people, animals, and seascapes her favourite subject matter. Her work is featured on the $0.46 stamp in this series.
Michel Guillemette of Sainte-Foy, Quebec, was an accomplished athlete until a dive into the St. Lawrence River at low tide left him with a broken spinal cord. A quadriplegic from that point on, Guillemette resided in a treatment centre, with the first 13 years passing without event. Through educational workshops, he learned to write by placing his pen in his mouth a feat which would bolster his self-confidence. Encouraged by a workshop leader in 1977, he began substituting pen with paintbrush, thus beginning his artistic career. His painting appears on the $0.55 stamp.
A resident of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, David Allan Carter has been a member of the Association of Mouth and Foot Painting Artists since 1993. Carter, after suffering two heart attacks and two strokes in one day, was suddenly rendered quadriplegic. He discovered mouthpainting after years of therapy and rehabilitation, and through professional instruction and art lessons, Carter has gradually mastered the art of mouthpainting; his collection of landscapes and farm scenes shows great promise. His Nativity scene adorns the $0.95 stamp.
Haligonians Larry and Kelly Burke are the husband-and-wife design team for the Christmas Nativity stamp issue. While they welcomed the opportunity to showcase the work of disabled artists to all of Canada and beyond, the challenge of their first stamp-design project lay in featuring the artwork as the main focus of a stamp set while also reflecting the mood of the festive season. This was accomplished by selecting background colours that complemented each painting while not overpowering it, the result being a cohesive set that placed the artwork at the forefront. A "Christmas card" aesthetic was achieved through the use of traditional yet legible typography.