This year marks the 100th Birthday of Erich Stegmann, one of the most remarkable and inspiring artists of the last century and founder of the Association of Mouth and Foot Painting Artists (AMFPA).
Born in 1912, Erich contracted polio at the age of two, which resulted in him permanently losing the use of his hands as well as limiting his ability to walk. However, through sheer determination he taught himself to write and later paint by using his mouth, this daunting start was to become the beginning of a remarkable journey. It was the making of an extraordinary man whose greatest achievement was his creation of the MFPA.
Even as a child Erich grew to resent his dependence on others. Early on he resolved that as an adult he would earn enough money to never be dependent on anybody else again. This driven approach to life manifest itself in a comment he made about art when he was at school, he said, “I wanted to prove I could do it better than those who were not handicapped. And so I did it better.”
By eight years of age Erich had sold his first painting and by the time he was in his early twenties, he had become a highly accomplished artist, At art college in Nurnberg, Germany, he painted many fine copies of ‘Old Masters’ paintings, which led one person to comment, “You could make a nice career for yourself as a forger.”
But Erich’s greatest talent was in seeing the bigger picture that would go beyond his own needs. By the mid-1950’s his desire for independence was becoming an obsession and led him to formulate a business strategy that he and other like-minded disabled artists could benefit from. He believed that a group of artists could attain financial independence by pooling their resources and jointly reproducing their original paintings as greeting cards, calendars and other products and marketing them directly to the public. And so from small beginnings the Mouth and Foot Painting Artists was formed in 1957.
Erich Stegmann sadly died in 1984, by which time the organisation had already expanded into many countries, providing independence for all of its artists. Today, he would be pleased to know that as a result of that same basic business philosophy he established over 50 years ago, the MFPA now consists nearly 802 disabled artists (38 of them in the UK*) in over 76 countries. What a legacy to celebrate in this, the artist’s centenary year.