A head for painting

Douglas Jackson

Take a walk through the newly renovated Oak Grove Nursing Home in Port Arthur and one immediately notices the colorful and beautiful paintings that line the walls.

Each hall begins at the nursing home’s central desk and extends out like starlight away from the home’s central hub.

But one hall is especially ornate — that of 60-year-old Douglas Jackson, decorated with bright land and seascapes, farm houses and spring fields rendered with bold colors. It’s as if the small nursing home isn’t a nursing home at all but a professional art gallery.

But there’s something else that’s special about Jackson: As a cerebral palsy patient who’s unable to speak, Jackson has rendered thousands of paintings despite being wheelchair-bound, and without the use of his arms or legs.

With the help of his family, Jackson has developed a love and talent for painting with a custom headband stylus, which he uses to type, paint, and even to play computer games with some of the nursing home’s staff and other residents.

“My brother stuck a paintbrush in the end of my stylus when I was 11 years old, and amazingly, I started teaching myself how to paint using my headband stylus,” Jackson said on his website. “I started painting with tempera and with some instructions from my brother (who) discovered that I had a natural talent to paint in 1964. The rest is history. I changed in 1969 to acrylic paint because I could paint on harder surfaces like canvas and Masonite board.”

Most of Jackson’s art commissions come from friends and family who bring him a picture they would like painted. Once Jackson has his subject, Oak Grove Nursing Home staff help Jackson pick the paints he’ll need, the size of the canvas and the type of brush he will use on the end of his stylus. Staff must also turn each painting 90 degrees if or when Jackson needs to paint in a straight line up or down as he does not have the motor skills in his head and neck necessary to paint up or down, only side to side.

“The nurses squeeze out the acrylic colors that I point out with my brush that is attached to my stylus,” Jackson said. “Then the nurses just leave me alone in my special studio at Oak Grove Nursing Home and let the magic begin.”

Having spent a lifetime unable to speak or walk hasn’t brought Jackson down. In an interview via e-mail, Jackson said he sees life as an adventure and wants to inspire others with similar afflictions to succeed.

“Well, you have to look at life as a huge adventure if you have cerebral palsy from lack of oxygen at birth. Yes, it was a very hard birth for both me and my mother, Mrs. Mary Belle Jackson,” he said. “I guess God had a plan for my life to be an inspiration to others that see me doing my thing with all of the colors of the rainbow!”

Each painting is either sold or exhibited in numerous art galleries around the US. Jackson’s prices depend on the size of the canvas, and average about $200.

Using the money he’s saved from the sale of his paintings over the years, Jackson is able to buy more paints, canvasses and a new computer that he said helps him keep in contact with the outside world.

Although he isn’t about to give up painting, Jackson said he also enjoys bowling when he can.

“I used to go bowling in my wheelchair and really did enjoy that a lot,” Jackson said in an e-mail. “My dad designed a neat bowling ramp that I use  to push my green ball to hit the pins down, and sometimes I would luck up and beat him.”

Pictures other than just paintings line the walls of Jackson’s room and depict a younger Jackson meeting stars like Bob Hope, legendary football coach Bum Phillips, Jimmy Duranti and the late Jack Brooks.

Jackson, a die-hard University of Texas football fan, also dons his UT football flag and cap regularly and never misses a game on TV.

Having already won numerous awards for his paintings in competitions around the US, Jackson said he has no intention of slowing the pace of his favorite hobby and has high hopes for his future in art.

He said, “Ten years from now, I really think that my paintings will be exhibited in the famous galleries all over the world!”