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Art That Sends A Clear Message: Don’t Let Go Of Lifetime Dream

Brom Wikstrom, one of the newest members appointed this month to the Washington State Arts Commission, knew all his life he’d be an artist.

He spent hours as a kid watching his father, a local art director, paint his stylized watercolors, animals and nudes, their limbs every which way. He used to copy them in his sketchbooks, clutching black-tipped pens in his small hands.

He and his father used to walk around their Magnolia neighborhood, talking about Picasso, and shades of light, and how everyday things — like the houses scrabbling up the hillside; or a bread wrapper, delicate and symmetrical — were moments of perfect beauty. Works of art.

And then one day, at the age of 21, everything changed. He injured his spinal cord diving into shallow waters in the Mississippi River. More than half of his life has been without the use of his legs and with only limited use of his arms.

So, Seattle artist Brom Wikstrom uses his mouth to paint with watercolors.

Because at what point do you give up your dreams? When you can’t sit up in bed? When you have no way to move your arms, your legs, your body? Or is it when you watch the heartbreak in your father’s eyes, when he sees you for the first time since the accident?

“It wasn’t about giving up a dream,” says Wikstrom, now 53. “I didn’t really have a choice. I remember thinking, OK, I can’t use my hands? Someone give me a pen. I’ll use my mouth instead.” And he did.

It was painstaking at first. Scribbles. Rickety lines. A sore jaw. His sketches were “atrocious,” he says. Nothing more than black strokes. Jackson Pollocks by necessity, rather than by design.

“Pathetic” is how he remembers himself.

Partly as a way to keep his mind off himself (his self-pity, his depression, his fierce, thwarted independence), he began painting all the time, 10 to 12 hours a day.

And after a while he began to learn the feel of a paint brush in his mouth. He learned how to hold it steady, how to make straight lines by leaning over his paper and drawing his neck up, nice and smooth.

Thirty-three years later, Wikstrom is the artist he always knew he’d be. His works are now intricate, detailed and precise. They move through the different styles he once practiced with his hands: Shades of Mark Tobey and M.C. Escher. Angles like Picasso. Bright purples and reds. Greens, bright like Seurat.

Dreams do come true!
Learn more about Brom Wikstrom at

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