Meet the northern B.C. Indigenous artist who paints intricate works using only her mouth

·2 min read
Jenna Wuthrich has limited mobility in her arms, so she's learned to use her mouth to do most things — including paint. (Nadia Mansour/CBC - image credit)
Jenna Wuthrich has limited mobility in her arms, so she's learned to use her mouth to do most things — including paint. (Nadia Mansour/CBC - image credit)

Jenna Wuthrich, 21, was born with arthrogryposis, a condition that restricts the mobility of her limbs and causes severe weakness.

That may seem like a barrier for someone passionate about painting — but Wuthrich doesn't let it stop her: she uses her mouth to paint intricate designs on drums and canvas.

Wuthrich, who lives in Prince George B.C., and is a member of the Wet'suwet'en First Nation's Laksilyu Clan, has been painting most of her life.

"I started painting and writing with my hands and my mouth at first when I was a kid. But then drawing and painting and writing with my mouth just was easier and [took] less time, so I just kept doing it," she said.

She said she sometimes uses her hands to steady the brush, but the actual brush strokes are done as she moves her head.

WATCH | Indigenous painter Jenna Wuthrich uses her mouth to make art:

When a paintbrush or a pen is in her mouth, she says she doesn't breathe much, so she has to take regular breaks to breathe to ensure she doesn't pass out.

"I've gotten pretty lightheaded from it because I get so in the zone, and I don't want to stop and take a break," she said.

"With the paintbrush in my mouth, every little movement is accounted for, and it'll make it or break it. A lot of the times, I'm just kind of holding my breath and not breathing."

"It definitely takes a lot of patience."

Nadia Mansour/CBC
Nadia Mansour/CBC

Wuthrich cooks, writes and cleans using her mouth — she says anything other people do with their hands, she finds a way to do differently.

"Basically, it's just like a hand, but on my face and to some people, that might be really weird," she said. "I think it's weird, but for me, it's also, you know, a part of my life and something that I just live with."

Nadia Mansour/CBC
Nadia Mansour/CBC

Painting has led to Wuthrich learning more about her Indigenous heritage, something she didn't have the opportunity to know much about when she was younger.

She often turns to other Indigenous artists for inspiration when she's learning to paint a new animal or design.

"There's just so many different styles. It's definitely rounded me out as a person," she said. "It's calming and zen and helps me find my happy place."

Wuthrich also suffers from anxiety and depression. She said that, coupled with her limited mobility, makes life challenging.

"I've got to work twice as hard to do what anyone else can do," she said. "Sometimes, it does get the best of me."

But she said she is always able to come back from that struggle and keep moving forward.

"Life is all about finding the beauty in it."

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