All About Multiple Sclerosis

More MS news articles for July 2003

For paralyzed artist Dale Battey, art is part of her salvation

Tuesday, July 15, 2003
Dan Sheenan
The Patriot-News

"It's a blessing to have something fun to do," whispers Dale Battey, a quadriplegic artist whose tools are not palette and brush but circuitry and light.

Battey, 44, struggles to get the words out. The East Pennsboro Twp. woman suffers from multiple sclerosis, an illness that attacks the protective sheathing around the nerves, and has lost virtually all voluntary functions in the last few years.
But she can paint.

With a little metallic circle pasted between her eyes, she can reflect infrared light into a console atop her computer and manipulate a cursor across the screen.

Using the Microsoft Windows Paint software program, she has created the vibrant works -- landscapes, flowers, children at play -- that adorn the walls of her sunny bedroom studio.

Five of her pieces are on display through Aug. 2 at the Art Center School and Galleries of Mechanicsburg, in a juried exhibit by 17 artists who have overcome hard times or disabilities.

"We've already sold a couple of her pieces," says Gloria Watts, an admiring fellow artist from Dillsburg who works at the center.

Battey is the sole computer artist among the exhibitors.

"She wasn't crediting herself with much because she didn't win an award in the show, but just to be juried into is an achievement," says Battey's daughter, Alexis Abeln, who brought her mother home to live with her in 1999 after Battey spent a decade in nursing homes.

Battey's father, Fraser, was a painter, but she never took up a brush until entering a nursing home in 1989.

She was right-handed, but MS had cost her the use of that hand, so she started her painting career as a southpaw.

The illness kept progressing.

By the time Battey moved into her daughter's home on Conodoguinet Creek, she could no longer lift her arms, though she could manipulate a mouse with one thumb. That's when she turned to computer art.

In time, she even lost use of the thumb. She might have succumbed to despair if not for the HeadMouse, the technology that has allowed her to keep painting.

A second software program allows her to type with an onscreen keyboard. She used it to compose a letter to the Art Center.

"I am continually surprised and grateful when other people enjoy the art," she wrote. "I started with less than zero knowledge [of painting] so this became my full-time job and part of my salvation."

Abeln said her mother is writing a book, too. It's a memoir called "I Have the Right to Die With Garlic on My Breath."

The title is a statement of defiance. Battey relies on a feeding tube, but still has a taste for garlic and other potent flavors.

"She says if she chokes on the garlic or whatever she puts in her mouth, it's her right to die that way," says Abeln, who continually marvels at her mother's strength and determination.

"She is just the most inspiring woman in the world," she says.

Copyright © 2003, The Patriot-News