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Eighty-two-year-old Paul Smith is a heart-warming and inspiring example of one man's triumph over adversity. Unable to walk, read or write, and confined to a wheelchair, he has drawn hundreds of superb pictures by using an old-fashioned typewriter. And he's been doing that for 60 years.

Many of his sketches and paintings can be seen on the internet, by following the links shown at the end of this story.

Paul was born in Philadelphia on September 21, 1921. Because he had severe cerebral palsy, he had no formal education. He taught himself to use a typewriter, steadying his right hand with his left.

Unable to press two keys simultaneously, he usually locks the shift key down and uses only the symbols at the top of the number keys.

Paul's sketches and paintings have attracted the attention of the media ever since 1946, when the Philadelphia Inquirer published a story headed Handicapped Boy Produces Art. It began:

An outstanding example of spirit over physical handicaps is presented by Paul Smith, 24-year-old son of Mr. and Mrs. A. Smith, 1428 S. Allison St. Since birth he has been the victim of a nervous affliction, which makes it impossible for him to co-ordinate motor muscles. But, in spite of handicaps, his active mind, indomitable will and a small typewriter have enabled him to produce pictures far beyond the scope of ordinary "typewriter art."

Paul has lived at Rose Haven Nursing Center in Roseburg, Oregon, since 1967. Two years ago, a citizens' group headed by Dr. Jim Mitch established The Paul Smith Foundation.

"Paul is an inspiration to all who know him.," says Dr. Mitch. " With much humility and a charming, self-depreciating sense of humor, he has become a man who excels at making the lives of those around him much richer. The vision of having a foundation based on Paul's work and wishes is just getting started."

He said the mission aimed to:

  • Find and preserve as many of Paul's pictures as possible.
  • Establish a permanent gallery to display and provide background about Paul's work and life, plus a travelling display suitable for a tour of art museums.
  • Make Paul's artwork available to the public through a variety of media, including prints, cards, albums, calendars, and screen savers.
  • Support programs to help children with severe physical challenges to express themselves and to participate in recreational activities such as chess. (Paul is an excellent chess player).
  • Help develop "whatever other ideas Paul is still working on."

Sadly, Dr. Mitch reports that because of failing eyesight, Paul now finds it difficult to create pictures or play chess.


The automated writing machine, or typewriter, was perfected in the 1870s and went on sale in 1874. By the 1890s typewriter manufacturers and secretarial agencies organised public speed-typing competitions and also competitions for typewriter drawings. Very few drawings survive from this period and as Alan Riddell has put it, this art "denies rather than affirms the instrument on which it was made."
-Mobile Cube Co. (UK)


Copyright 2004

Eric Shackle

Story first posted March 2004

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