Meet the indigenous artist from northern BC who paints intricate works using only her mouth

Jenna Wuthrich, 21, was born with arthrogryposis, a condition that limits mobility in her limbs and causes severe weakness.

That might seem like a stumbling block for someone passionate about painting—but Wuthrich doesn’t let that stop her: she uses her mouth to paint intricate designs on drums and canvas.

Wuthrich, who lives in Prince George BC and is a member of the Laksilyu clan of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation, has painted for most of her life.

“As a child, I started drawing and writing with my hands and mouth. But then drawing and painting and writing with my mouth was just easier and [took] less time, so I just kept going,” she said.

She said she sometimes uses her hands to steady the brush, but the actual brushstrokes are made as she moves her head.

CLOCK | Indigenous painter Jenna Wuthrich uses her mouth to make art:

Meet the indigenous artist who paints with her mouth

Jenna Wuthrich, who lives in northern BC, has limited mobility in her limbs, but that doesn’t stop her from painting intricate designs.

If there’s a brush or pen in her mouth, she says she’s not breathing much, so she has to take regular breath breaks to make sure she doesn’t pass out.

“I got pretty groggy from it because I get so zoned in and I don’t want to stop and take a break,” she said.

“With the brush in the mouth, every little movement is accounted for, and it will make or break it. Often I just kind of hold my breath and don’t breathe.”

“It definitely takes a lot of patience.”

A woman in a wheelchair smiles at the camera.
Jenna Wuthrich says learning to paint with her mouth has given her a chance to learn more about her indigenous heritage and culture. (Nadia Mansur/CBC)

Wuthrich cooks, writes and cleans with her mouth – she says everything that other people do with their hands, she finds a way to do it differently.

“Basically it’s like a hand, but on my face and for some people it could be really weird,” she said. “I find it weird, but for me it’s also a part of my life and something I just live with.”

A woman holds a brush in her mouth while painting a drum.
“With the brush in her mouth, every little movement is accounted for and she will make it or break it. Often I just hold my breath and don’t breathe’: Jenna Wuthrich. (Nadia Mansur/CBC)

Painting has led Wuthrich to learn more about her indigenous heritage, something she was not able to learn much about when she was young.

She often turns to other Indigenous artists for inspiration when learning to paint a new animal or design.

“There are just so many different styles. It definitely rounded me out as a person,” she said. “It’s calming and zen and helps me find my happy place.”

Wuthrich also suffers from anxiety and depression. She said this, combined with her limited mobility, makes life challenging.

“I have to work twice as hard to do what others can do,” she said. “Sometimes it overwhelms me.”

But she said she’s always able to come back from that fight and move on.

“Life is about finding the beauty in it.”

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