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Norfolk artist overcomes disability

PUBLISHED: 10:31 24 November 2009 | UPDATED: 10:08 13 July 2010

Peter Longstaff at work.

Peter Longstaff at work.

Richard Batson

Artist Peter Longstaff's pictures of flickering candles and fluttering doves are cheery festive images that will appear on Christmas cards across the world.

Artist Peter Longstaff.

Artist Peter Longstaff's pictures of flickering candles and fluttering doves are cheery festive images that will appear on Christmas cards across the world.

But they hide the remarkable story of an inspirational man born with no arms, who has lived life to the full as a pig farmer, father, and youth football coach.

The 48-year-old is part of an inter-national movement of Mouth and Foot Painting Artists, whose card and calendar sales provide financial help to physically handicapped painters like himself.

He was one of many babies born with deformities in the in late 1950s and early 60s when their pregnant mothers were given the drug thalidomide to help with their morning sickness.

But from an early age he learned to use his right foot like a right hand, and was independent enough to complete mainstream schooling, growing up in Cleveland.

"My right foot is like your right hand," says the man who opens doors, and turns on light switches standing on one leg, using a mixture of agility and balance. "I figured out ways of doing things," he added.

As a young adult he endured some cruel remarks from "ignorant people" but took it in his stride.

"You just get hardened to it and block it out. You get used to people looking at you in the street because you are different. But, if you let it bother you, you would not do anything," said Mr Longstaff, from Briston near Holt.

His first career was as a pig farmer - a physical job where he managed to drive tractors, muck out the pigs and bale the hay. But he left the business 10 years ago when the market, rather than the workload, got tough.

That left a chance to pursue the art he had dabbled with throughout his life, initially through a return-to-learning college course, and then taken on by the MFPA as a student, after being vetted to ensure his work was up to standard.

The funds raised by the organisa-tion provide him with grants to help with tuition fees and materials. If he progresses to full membership he will earn a wage.

His work includes landscapes, picking up on his love of the countryside, as well as images targeted at the cards market. He has had a handful selected which also earns a bonus payment.

As he put the finishing touches to a woodland scene with a deer, in the conservatory of his rural studio, he said: "I love the skies, the colours of sunsets and sunrises, along with wildlife."

He works on easels or the floor - changing positions to stop getting backache and to deal with detail - and keeps fit and supple with walking and swimming.

Divorced, but with a new partner, Mr Longstaff still spends a lot of time with 12-year-old son Milo, as dad and manager of his Cromer under-13 football team, which involves Tuesday night training and Sunday matches.

His ability to get around between home, studio and sports field is down to an adapted Range Rover, which he steers with a plate under his left foot, but which is otherwise a standard automatic.

An exhibition of his paintings is on show at the Picturecraft Gallery in Holt from Friday until Christmas eve (9-5 Monday to Saturday, but closed from 1pm Thursday).

Information about the MFPA, which has 700 artists in 780 countries, and its cards is available on www.mfpa.co.uk or call 020 7229 4491.

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