Tuesday, January 9, 2018

J.C. Ryan, The Handless Penman

At age 22, J.C. Ryan lost both of his hands in a Dakota blizzard, leaving him with stumps for arms.

For several years he was sad and dejected, reduced to traveling with a novelty show. He tried writing by holding a pen with one of his feet, but that wasn't convenient.

So he tried pressing the pen between what was left of his arms.

He met Warner C. Brownfield, a master penman who taught him the movements he would need for roundhand writing: precise directional slants, sweeping curves, and heavier strokes achieved by sensitive changes of pressure.

The idea may have seemed hopeless at first, but Ryan stuck with it.

Brownfield observed: "The movement he uses is mainly body motion flowing out through both arms, though his left arm does most of the propelling. The resting of his arms and rolling on the muscles with precision gives him much the same control gotten by the best professional penmen through aid of the fingers."

He earned his living signing postcards, and was able to make as much as $30 per day. In 1917 he said, "I am doing the biggest business in my life... I am getting 35 cents per dozen cards, 50 cents with address, so that is a good price."

The Business Educator said, "Think of a man without hands, tying his shoes, buttoning his shirt and collar, putting on his tie and taking care of himself in every way without aid from others, to say nothing of mastering penmanship, going on the road as an enthusiastic card writer, doing well, taking care of his money, and best of all being happy and enjoying life—that is J. C. Ryan."

Brownfield said, "His life is an example of courage and should be an inspiration to those who have hands and don't train them." 
J. C. Ryan, The Handless Penman at Zanerian website


David Apatoff said...

A French artist, Noël Masson (1854-1889)specialized in etchings of those epic, overdone classical scenes, with lots of details and fine lines. His etching of the Great Flood was recently on display at the RISD art museum ( https://risdmuseum.org/art_design/objects/9063_the_flood_le_d_iluge) and I noticed the following sentences at the end of the description on the placard: "The large scale and profuse detail of the print are remarkable, especially given that Masson lost both arms as a teenager during the Commune, a civil war that broke out in Paris in 1870. He learned to use artificial hands to etch, working in the medium for almost two decades."

Kinda makes you want to rethink the excuses we all use for not getting things done.

mirana said...

I had art school classes with a student who had the same body challenges and held pencils or tools in this same way. To look at their art was to look at any budding student's work. We are quick to discount abilities based on body type, but just because there is one method you know about does not mean it is the only one!

Roberto Quintana said...

ReThink, Indeed!!
This brings to mind Chuck Close. -RQ