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On May 2nd an auction will be held at Christie’s Auction House, London, to raise money for the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation www.artforsurvival.org

Leanne Beetham, aged 19, will be the youngest artist to have gone through the selection process and have a painting in the auction.

Leanne is also the youngest UK artist in the association of Mouth and Foot Painting Artists (www.mfpa.co.uk) and she paints by holding a paintbrush in her mouth.

Free public viewing of the auction and exhibition will run from 10.00 28th April until 17.00 on 2nd May

Leanne will be traveling to London on Wednesday May 2nd and will travel home on May 3rd

For requests for interviews, more information or an image of Leanne's painting please contact

Rebecca Jones / VP Communications / 020 8964 0260 / rebecca@vp-pr.com

Leanne’s biography from a recent MFPA book:

Leanne Beetham is a zestful, happy student who, like many young people of her age, likes to go to the cinema with friends or go on shopping expeditions at the weekend. She is an ardent fan of Enrique Iglesias, the pop star son of the famous Julio, enthusiastically takes part in her favourite sport which is carriage driving and is making a career for herself as an artist. Yet when Leanne came into the world nearly twenty years ago it was immediately recognized that she was suffering from the disabling arthrogryposis syndrome

The effect of this extremely rare disease meant that her muscles were without motive power, her joints were permanently stiff and she had a severe curvature of the spine. At the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children a surgeon said: “There is lots we would like to do for her but sadly she would not come through the anaesthetic.”

Her outlook was bleak and after a month her mother could not come to terms with her daughter’s disability. At this point her grandmother and grandfather, Maureen and Ken Beetham, took charge and have cared for Leanne ever since – a decision they have never regretted.

“When she was born doctors did not hold much hope for her”, says Maureen looking back to those distressing days. “We were told, “You do realize it is a very bad muscular disease…. She will never be able to use her hands or walk”. It was more or less said that she would be like a vegetable. How she has proved them all wrong”.

At the Beethams home in North Bransholm, on the outskirts of Hull, the fact that the baby had no use in her arms or legs did not hold her back. At the age of eighteen months instead of toddling she moved, perhaps raced is a better word, about the house in a small, specially adapted electric wheelchair.

“You know how children like to use their colouring books and make pictures”, Maureen says. “I just gave her a piece of paper and a pencil. The next thing was she held the pencil in her mouth and away she went. She used to sit for hours and hours amusing herself by drawing.”

“I took to holding a pen in my mouth quite naturally”, Leanne adds” I did everything with my mouth because I had no use in my hands. And I started drawing before I started writing; often it is the other way around. I went to school for the disabled from nursery to class 3, but after that I had mainstream schooling, attending the Kingswood High School and now Wilberforce College. I did not find being surrounded by able-bodied classmates at all difficult; in fact I thoroughly enjoyed it.

“The only problem I have is that I need to have physio when I stiffen up but do not take painkillers or anything like that. Until seven years ago I used to have to wear uncomfortable splints – day splints and night splints – but then I found I could manage without them, thank goodness.

“I received my mortar-board at the Children’s University, organized by Hull University, which is a six month general education course held each Saturday. I was the only disabled person attending and I was awarded a certificate for “Achievement in Excellence”. I am currently doing a course in computer studies and a two year A-level course in art. After that I hope to study animal behaviour because I am fascinated by animal psychology – animals are my favourite subjects for painting – and then hopefully I shall do a degree course in art. I see art as my real career.”

When Leanne was thirteen she designed a Christmas card for her school and this was featured in a local newspaper. The item was seen by Katrina Gardner, a student member of the Association of Mouth and Foot Paintings Artists whose story is also told in this book, and she arranged to visit Leanne. She was impressed with the work of the disabled girl and as a result Leanne was given a boost by the MFPA Trust Fund for the Training of Handicapped Children in the Arts. Administered by the MFPA for over thirty years the Trust, as its name suggests, benefits disabled children with artistic potential up to the age of eighteen. Jon Clayton , also mentioned in this book, was assigned to be Leanne’s mentor, which is an example of how the Association’s artists give practical support to each other.

Such was the progress Leanne made, that immediately after celebrating her sixteenth birthday she was awarded a scholarship.

Today, when she sits in front of her easel, she has her bright little terrier Penny for company.

Leanne says: My favourite subjects are animals – anything to do with animals – which explains my interest in animal behaviour. I also like to do landscapes that I have photographed with my digital camera. I do not like still lifes; I prefer life that is not still. I paint in watercolours and I like doing charcoal sketches. Since becoming a student I have done several public demonstrations of mouth painting with Jon Clayton and David Cawthorne. It’s great fun and it gives people an idea of the work of the MFPA and shows what is possible even if one is physically handicapped.”

Of Leanne’s other interests perhaps her most unusual activity is carriage driving.

“I do it with the Evervale Riding for the Disabled Group”, she says. “I have just finished my Grade 1 in driving. Soon I’ll be starting on my Grade 2, and before long I hope to be going in for competitions. When I have a driving session the back of the cart drops down like a ramp. Then I am rolled up in it in a manual wheelchair – you can’t use a motorized one for this – which is clamped into position. The reins have loops on them and these are put round my wrists. While I cannot lift my arms at all, I have a little sideways movement and I can control Pepsi (the horse) that way. I have been doing it for three years now and this year I won the “Driver of the Year” award.”

A highlight in Leanne’s life came four years ago when, in company with her Grandmother and a carer named Margaret, she flew to Orlando, Florida, to fulfill a long-held but seemingly impossible ambition.

“It came about through Dreams Come True, a charitable organization that provides travel for the disabled”, Leanne explains. “Someone passed my name on to them and I was asked what I would really like to do. My answer was that above all else I wanted to swim with dolphins. So it was arranged that we should have a week in Florida, and what a week it was. Grandma shot twenty rolls of film as we visited Disneyland, Sea World and Discovery Cove where the dolphins live.

“There you sit in a group in the water at the edge of a pool and one after another dolphins arrive to choose people to swim with. One came up to me and gave me a kiss and so he was my partner. Of course I cannot really swim but my carer Margaret supported me in the water. The dolphin’s skin felt like a cross between rubber and plastic. He seemed to be smiling all the time and somehow it felt that there was a sympathetic link between us. It was an experience I shall treasure all my life”.

When Leanne was once asked what advice she would give to someone who found themselves disabled, she replied”, Just never give up…no pain, no gain!”

This is certainly her own article of faith. Determined not to let her disability hinder her, she says”, If you say I can’t do something I’ll go out of my way to prove you wrong. What I do find difficult is people who are eager to help, who fuss around you saying”, Let me do this for you…let me do that…”and talks as though you’re in a pram rather than a wheelchair. You see, I don’t think of myself as disabled.”


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