Artist Tom Yendall has received the university’s Alumnus Award 2017 in recognition of his prolific career as a Mouth and Foot Painting Artist and his numerous charitable accomplishments.
Born with no arms due to the drug Thalidomide prescribed to his mother during pregnancy, the renowned artist and charity worker said he wouldn’t choose to have arms now even if he could.
Sam Davies, the university’s Director of Philanthropy and Alumni Engagement, in her oration quoted him: “Now and then people say ‘well, if you had little magic fairy come along and say if you could have your life again with arms’, I would tell them where to go. I’m quite happy with where I am.
“Art is in your heart and your head – it doesn’t matter which part of your anatomy holds the brush – you can hold it in your hand, your mouth, your foot, or you can stick it up your nose. If you have a talent, it will come out.”
Ms Davies said: “For Tom, there are no such things as obstacles – just him doing the things we all do, but in a different way: ‘I don’t let anything stop me. Someone once described me by saying I wouldn’t play cricket for England, but I would probably play football for Spurs. That’s always been my attitude – just because one door is closed, another will be open’.”
Sometimes teased as a child, Mr Yendell was fitted with artificial limbs and with one pair he discovered he could swung his arms around 360 degrees and so he could play being a helicopter. Ms Davies said: “All well and good until one of the bolts holding his arm to his shoulder came loose and the severed arm flew through the air at great speed and landed in front of an elderly lady on a park bench who understandably was rather shocked.”
As a teenager, he recognised he no longer had any use for artificial arms as he was accomplishing everything he wanted to do in his own way. He attended Treloar College in Alton, the largest school and college for the disabled in the country, and from there took a foundation course at Hastings College of Art & Technology and later studied for an expressive arts degree at the then Brighton Polytechnic where he met his wife Lucy.
After graduating in 1985, Mr Yendell took a job with one of the Prince of Wales’ charities ‘Business in the Community’, an early enterprise start up support organisation. This encouraged him to start his own career as a self-employed artist and led him to join the Mouth and Foot Painting Artists (MFPA) in 1986, working up from a student artist to Board Member over the past 30 years.
Now 54, he uses his lips, tongue, teeth, head and feet to master different brush strokes and hopes his artwork proves that nothing is too big a hurdle in life.
He divides his time between art and charity work. He chaired their Treloar alumni association for 25 years and founded Flat Spaces Foundation, a charity that provides holiday accommodation for the severely disabled and less abled.
He is also involved with The Education and Book Appeal which raises funds to help children in Ghana attend school and providing them with school shoes, uniform, bag and fee.
Mr Yendell advised students: Find something that you love doing, work hard and remember – enjoy life. He offered graduates three pieces of advice: Follow your dream, treat people as you would expect to be treated and fill your time.
“We are only here for a short time so try and fill that time really well – get out of bed in the mornings and enjoy what you do.”