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Published: Sunday, 12/25/2011

Lips, teeth key to degree for Mich. woman

34-year-old paints with mouth

ASSOCIATED PRESS
Rynita McGuire paints in her university studio in Kalamazoo, Mich., using her teeth to hold the brush. Rynita McGuire paints in her university studio in Kalamazoo, Mich., using her teeth to hold the brush.
KALAMAZOO GAZETTE Enlarge

KALAMAZOO, Mich. -- Rynita McGuire puts a new spin on the word "mouthy" as she mixes turntables and paints murals.

The 34-year-old Kalamazoo native completed a college degree entirely with her lips and teeth. She received her bachelor's degree in painting from Western Michigan University Saturday, and every piece of art she's created -- whether on canvas, in headphones, or on a computer screen -- was made with her mouth.

Ms. McGuire was born with arthrogryposis, a condition that affects the tendons and results in underdeveloped muscles. She has used a wheelchair for essentially her entire life. She orders strawlike devices called mouth sticks online for about $70 each and uses them to DJ and make graphic designs.

"I'm not paralyzed. I can use my hands but I have much more control with my mouth," she said. "I lived my life like this. It's not hard. If you push yourself all the time, things become natural."

She said she has been using her mouth to do most things since she was a kid, so it was a no-brainer for her to grab a wooden spoon the first time she encountered DJ-mixing tables about a decade ago. Six months later, she was invited to perform at the Detroit Electronic Music Festival in 2002 and toured the country under the name DJ Short-e.

Ms. McGuire fell in love with art when she picked up a crayon, but didn't seriously pursue it until college. She attended classes in graphic design and painting on and off at Kalamazoo Valley Community College, but she wanted to get her bachelor's degree. In 2009, she focused on school at WMU because being a student and a traveling DJ was too difficult.

"I think painting with my mouth was harder than learning to DJ," she said. "Finishing school on my own was really intense. I didn't think I was going make it a few times. Western can be a big scary place, even for me, and I'm not intimidated by a lot. I'm really proud I made it."

Ms. McGuire's independence is innate, according to her mother, Elizabeth Schmidt of Kalamazoo.

"She doesn't feel like she is handicapped. It's the people who are doing nothing and have use of their arms who are handicapped," Ms. Schmidt said. "She is able to pick herself up and keep going despite some really hard obstacles and it's not like anything has been given to her. She's done it on her own, even school."



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