Fifty years ago, Pyatt native Dale Tabor dreamed the dreams of most ambitious young men, of traveling the world, having a measure of fame, and being admired for his abilities and talents. Though his life turned out very different from the way the starry-eyed 20-year-old imagined, 50 years later, he reflects that he has lived out most of those dreams.
It has often been said that when a person loses the power of one sense, the other senses in their body will be strengthened in compensation. The 1969 near fatal accident that left Dale Tabor a quadriplegic for life imposed strict limitations on the use of his limbs, but through his strong-willed determination and optimistic outlook on life, it enhanced the vision of his artistic prospective and enlightened his viewpoint on living a life full of meaning.
Tabor shared that he has had an affinity for art his whole life.
“I can remember when I was three years old; I took a nail and drew pictures on my mother’s chest-of-drawers.”
Tabor was keenly aware of his surroundings, taking note of the fields, trees, birds, deer and other field animals, as well as the old barns that were characteristic of his Ozark’s setting.
Tabor’s interest in art flourished through his school years. Many of his high school buddies retained pictures he sketched for them. Growing up, Tabor also excelled in athletics. As a senior in high school, he averaged 27 points a game. In 1966, he was awarded a commemorative watch for being selected to play on the all-state all-star team. Later that year, his athleticism merited an athletic scholarship to Arkansas Tech University.
“I had always done art work on my own, but (Arkansas Tech) was where I got my first formal art training.”
In those art classes, Tabor soaked in all he could absorb about the use of colors, lines, contrasts, perspectives, light and subjects. He found he enjoyed working with all mediums, acrylics, oils, pastels and clays.
His college career was short lived. In 1968, in the thick of the Vietnam era, Tabor enlisted in the U.S. Army. He was commissioned to active duty at Fort Benning, Georgia. While there, he set the fort record for running the mile. While at the base, Tabor was asked to paint walls. He and another enlistee took simple paints they foraged from the compound and painted a mural of a country scene. Tabor stated that his art work and athleticism kept him from harder duties. He felt fortunate he had those abilities to fall back on.
Tabor returned home from the Army in 1969, feeling “10 feet tall and bulletproof.” Physically, he was in the best condition of his life. On the fateful afternoon of his car wreck, Tabor reflected, “I was supposed to ride the rodeo that night. I was going to ride a bull and that would have probably killed me.”
In the weeks and months following his accident, Tabor stared blankly at the colorless view of the hospital ceiling. He could not imagine a life that he could be a part of. He thought he had lost all that he was.
Tabor was sent to specialists in Houston, where he was hospitalized for almost a year. The severity of his injuries had left Tabor a quadriplegic. Throughout the first stages of his recovery, he had to accept the harsh reality that he could not use his limbs.
On one of his routine days in rehab at the hospital in Houston, Tabor happened upon news of the renowned paraplegic speaker and artist, Joni Erarckson Tada. After listening to her story, Tabor decided to try mouth painting. Tabor reflected on that painstakingly long struggle in his life, “In my mind all that I knew of my art was still there, but there was a gorge between the pictures that were in my mind and the canvas.”
2019 will mark the 50th anniversary of Tabor’s accident. He has painted hundreds of thousands of pictures on canvas and various other backdrops. He has lectured at art seminars at the Museum of Art in Houston, at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC, and in the Christopher Columbus Art Gallery in Spain. He has displayed his technique and displayed art in major studios in the United States and in countries including Austria, Barcelona, Brazil, Belize, Canada, Jamaica, Mexico, and the Virgin Islands. Tabor’s paintings are widely circulated in Switzerland, the location of the international Mouth and Foot Artists Association. One of his most popular prints, “The Peacock,” has been reproduced more than 100,000 times.
Kate March, publicist and promoter at the Atlanta, Georgia MFPA headquarters stated of Tabor’s work, “Dale is a prime example of this drive and determination to be recognized as a legitimate working artist, despite any physical limitation.”
March added, “Dale’s talent and tenacity is less about transcending physical hurdles and is instead more about an honest and deep desire to his demonstrate his tremendous abilities as an artist.”
Tabor’s travels greatly impacted his art and his views on life. He reflected on an instance when he was completely awestruck by the magnificent artwork of the ceilings in the national buildings in Vienna, Austria. He had the tour halted so he could have his chair tilted at an angle where he could sit and gaze at the glorious murals.
Since that encounter, when Tabor finds himself lying prostrate on a hospital bed or recuperating at home from his reoccurring injuries, Tabor said, “I paint ceilings in my mind.” He added, “I have designed and painted each ceiling that I have stared at. They each have a pattern and a specific design, I just have to find it and see it. It has helped my art work tremendously.”
“I would not trade my life for anyone else’s.” Tabor stated. “I wish I could put into other people’s heads, all that is in my head.”
As to his life views on finding joy and contentment, Tabor offered, “If people would know to use the abilities they have to the fullest and never compare themselves to others, their lives would be the lives of their dreams.”