Keep Painting!

barbara painting canvas using table clamp magnifierWalking through the doors of Barbara Mangus-Hopkins home you instantly know an artist lives there. Her many works are displayed throughout her cheerfully decorated home. I visited with Barbara to learn how she continues to carry out her passion of painting in spite of the decline in her vision due to type 1 diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes is typically diagnosed in children and young adults and used to be referred to as juvenile diabetes. It is estimated that only 5% of people with diabetes have type 1 diabetes. People with type 1 diabetes do not have the ability to produce insulin. Insulin is a hormone that is necessary to convert sugar and starches into energy that is required for daily life. Most people can manage their condition and live long and healthy lives with insulin therapy. However, Barbara happens to be allergic to every insulin medication “in the world”. She was a research patient for Eli Lilly for fifty years, yet never found an insulin that her body accepted. A few years ago, she started losing her vision due to macular degeneration and diabetic neuropathy, which is a common complication of this disease that damages the nerves.

Barbara is an energetic and what I would call “fun-loving and feisty lady”. When I walked into her brightly lit kitchen I was surprised to see how organized her art supplies were beside the kitchen table. I joked with her saying, “in my personal experience, I don’t see many organized artists”.

Barbara is a warm and open person and began her story by sharing that “sixty years ago they said I had five years to live, but I fooled them!”. She has had many obstacles to overcome in her life, but none greater than starting to lose her vision a few years ago. She has been painting most of her life and graduated from John Herron Art School in Indianapolis, Indiana.  When she started to lose her vision she reached out to local rehabilitation centers to learn how to live “in a darker world”.  She has now been a visually impaired watercolor artist for several years.

Barbara uses several magnifying tools to be able to paint.  With the use of a large magnifying lamp that clamps on her table she can put any material she wants to paint under it so it is magnified enough for her to paint. She also has a hand-held magnifier. She loves to paint watercolor paintings on canvas and is now painting on leather shoes, corrective shoes and purses. She started painting shoes because she had a friend who did not want to wear her “ugly corrective shoes” and she decided to paint them for her. She uses acrylic painted designs to bring these creations to life.

Barbara uses the assistive technology of magnifiers to help her paint and has also come up with another low-tech tool of scenting her paints to distinguish the color. She uses lavender scent for purple, onion for white, spearmint for green, et cetera. She has painted many public arts such as a full size INDY race car for a project called Art In Motion. She has done many commissioned paintings and is a member of the Art Bank Gallery on Massachusetts Avenue in Indianapolis, Indiana. Her art can be seen on the first Friday of every month during the “First Friday” art exhibit.

Before purchasing her own magnifying equipment, Barbara borrowed a magnifier from the INDATA Project’s equipment loan library. The loan library is a free resource available to anyone in the state of Indiana. The library has many assistive technology devices to assist people in finding technology that can increase their independence at work, school, or home.  INDATA’s library has equipment that includes devices for people who have visual, cognitive, hearing, mobility, learning and other impairments. INDATA’s mission is to provide assistive technology solutions that help people successfully work, go to school, live independently or even be able to continue to do beloved activities such as painting. Click here to learn more about INDATA’s equipment loan library.

Barbara’s devotion to her art is contagious when you are around her and her hope is that anyone facing obstacles will look for ways to be able to continue to do what they love. Her motto is, “enjoy life, keep painting, god bless, and do not give up”. barbara painting corrective shoe under magnifier