Sarah Biffen was the first recorded British mouth painter. Born in Somerset without arms or legs, she lived from 1784 to 1850.
During her adult life she managed to make a living in a travelling sideshow by demonstrating her ability to paint with a brush held between her teeth, yet her talent was such that she had a painting accepted at the Royal Academy.
A century after her death another mouth painter, Erich Stegmann, was travelling the world to seek out fellow ‘handless’ artists in order to join him in his dream of establishing an organisation that would give them independence by marketing their work for them.
From the small group he gathered for the inaugural meeting of the Association of Mouth and Foot Painting Artists held in Liechtenstein, the number of members has exceeded 800, based in over 78 countries.
‘The MFPA has given me the opportunity to have my work reproduced and be seen worldwide.’Steve Chambers, mouth painter
In many of these countries (including Britain) the members of the Association own the publishing companies that print their work and present it to the public. In 1988 Nicholas Scott, then Minister of State for Social Security and the Disabled, wrote:
‘The members of the Association of Mouth and Foot Painters are united by a determination, not only to realise their full artistic potential, but to ensure their own financial independence and that of their fellow members for life, thus regaining that essential self-esteem which so often is a casualty of serious physical disability.’