AN avid fell walker who took up painting when a rare condition left him paralysed from the eyelids down is staging his first art exhibition.
Kenneth Longstaff began painting with his fingers but now uses brushes taped to his hands after he was struck down with Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS), a rare disorder in which the immune system mistakenly attacks nerves causing the body to shut down.
The Darlington 60-year-old was once a keen fell walker and recently returned to the hills with the help of Eaglescliffe running club Orchard Eagles, whose members carried him to the top of the 1,214ft summit of Latrigg in the Lake District.
The feat raised £1,452 which he donated to St Teresa’s Hospice, Darlington, and the KeyRing disability support group, based at the town’s St Columba’s Church, Clifton Avenue, where he paints.
Now Kenneth spends his time painting from memory the landscapes he once walked as he lives with a condition that severely restricts his mobility.
In 2012 he was struck down by GBS, which was first noticed by physicians in troops returning from World War I.
He spent three and a half years in hospital, including a year in James Cook’s intensive care unit, and still needs 24 hour care at his home, after becoming one of the most serious cases ever seen by his consultant.
“Unable to walk, garden or do DIY I needed to do something to occupy myself,” he said. “I hadn’t painted since I was 16 when my dad told me there was no money in art and I should find an apprenticeship.
“So I started finger painting but can add so much more detail if I tape a brush to my hand. I use acrylic on canvas so if I make a mistake it is easy to paint over it.”
The aim of the exhibition, which is open for the next two weeks in Darlington’s indoor market, is to highlight what can be achieved by people with disabilities.
“If I can do it with my condition, then anyone can,” said Kenneth. “I would like to think that this is the first of many exhibitions. My paintings are of the Lake District, South Park, High Force and places in the Mediterranean I have visited, which have left me with some great memories.”
Kenneth also hopes to be back in the hills with a little help from his friends. Orchard Eagle David Barugh, who organised the Lakes wheelchair carry, is working on further modifications.
Kenneth explained: “He is trying to make the chair into more of a rickshaw so that on the flatter sections it can be pushed rather than carried all the way. The plan is to get back into the Cleveland Hills, where I used to walk. Just knowing I can get out and about makes me feel so happy.”