Michael Davenport, Amazing Mouth Artist
The artist places a black Sharpie between his lips, leans his torso forward and nods his head to make careful, precise strokes on the canvas. It doesn't take long before the strokes join together to form a very recognizable shape. That's Uga he's drawing, mascot of the Georgia Bulldogs.There's a red football helmet by Uga's side and in the background, a painstaking rendering of the University of Georgia's famed black iron arch.
It's a drawing any Bulldog fan would be proud to hang, but the wow factor is that it's all been done by mouth. Davenport, who had his hands and most of his arms amputated as a teenager, knows his special skill attracts gawkers. In fact, he's counting on it. That's how he makes his living.This day he has set up his easel at a busy intersection in Athens, Ga.
Passersby appear stunned, amazed. One lady rolls down her window. "That is awesome," she yells. "You are extremely talented." Another woman gives him a bookmark telling him God loves him. Davenport already knows that.
"I wouldn't be able to do what I do without the Lord," he says.
What does Davenport think about people's reactions when they see him working? "I feel like they look at it the way God wants them to see it," he says. "There's hope there, you know. I haven't given up. I haven't just laid on my tail and waited on a government check."
Davenport won't give up. He says it again and again. There's always a chance life will get better. He knows from experience. Davenport says he was a bitter addict until God changed his attitude and helped him see the beauty in life.
Occasionally he struggles to hold onto objects, dropping pen caps, asking for help securing something in a jean pocket at his knee. He's learned to talk while holding the Sharpie in his mouth.
"Most people think it's hard. I look at it as just surviving. God gave me talent. I'm going to do it," he says.
It's supposed to get up into the 50s today but the wind is biting, more than once knocking over his canvas. Davenport says he usually starts to work at around 11 a.m. Today he's still going shortly before 6 p.m., nearly seven hours after he started, with plans to continue working into the night, drawing for fans at a baseball game.
He doesn't mind the cold as much as other people, he says. He's pretty much numb from the chest down due to the burn injuries he suffered when he was a teenager. With visions of swinging like Spiderman, a 13-year-old Davenport was attempting to throw a rope with a copper wire inside it over a tree limb, but missed and hit a live power line.
"All I knew was something had a hold of me and I couldn't let it go," he says.
Davenport was told by witnesses that some of his fingers and toes fell off as he was being loaded onto a stretcher. But that's not what he remembers. In what he describes as an "out of body experience," Davenport says he was transported to a beautiful place of peace and without pain, where he felt God's presence. God told him he was OK and that it wasn't his time to die, he says. A month later he woke up in the hospital and learned his hands, his left arm and his right forearm had been amputated.
Davenport asked "Why me?" and hid in homeroom to eat his lunch.
"I didn't want to accept I had no hands. When I'd see my reflection in the mirror, it hurt. When people would look at me, it hurt. When my clothes didn't fit right, it hurt."
Davenport learned to write his name with his mouth. Invited to attend UGA football practices by legendary Coach Vince Dooley, Davenport began practicing drawing the college mascot.
Before the accident, "I couldn't draw a stick figure," Davenport says.
But when he put a pen in his mouth, he discovered a talent. Davenport began drawing sketches on bar napkins for patrons in downtown Athens before graduating to Sharpies, paint markers and canvases. It takes him less than an hour to do most of his drawings, and he charges between $100 and $175 per piece.
He's become known around town and is the subject of an occasional news story. He is hoping to get more exposure. A friend is writing a book about his life, and Davenport is hoping to score an appearance on comedian Steve Harvey's talk show.
Davenport is currently living in a budget motel and just learned he may lose his elbow due to infection. But he keeps hoping for a better tomorrow. He says he has put the past behind him, a past that includes addiction to drugs and alcohol, substances that Davenport used to help him feel accepted.
He claims God saved his life twice: Once from death by electrocution and once from the disease of addiction. He realized he had to let go of the addiction when it started affecting his physical and mental health, as well as his art.
"I thank God for opening my eyes," he says.
"He's forgiven me. I've got to forgive myself. That's what most people lack is forgiving themselves. What's past is past," he says.
A woman stops to ask if Davenport only draws bulldogs. No, he says. He can also do family portraits, landmarks, such as Athens' historic Georgia Theatre, and other school mascots. He's got one with Uga, rival mascot Albert the Florida Gator and mascots from other football teams gambling, most likely on who will claim victory in the next game.
Dooley, who long ago encouraged Davenport, "Don't ever stop doing what you're doing," owns several of his drawings, as does current UGA Coach Mark Richt.
Today, Davenport's second piece is again Uga, this time sporting shades and lounging in front of Sandford Stadium. With delicate strokes, he slowly and carefully fills the stands with fans. Is he really taking the time to draw in people in all of those seats? Driving by almost four hours later, he's still at it. No, Michael Davenport doesn't give up.
"Always put Christ first and you can do anything. Always have hope things will be better. You can either lay there and accept things as is or make a change, make them better," he says.
If you are in Athens, Ga., be on the lookout for Michael. He spends most of his time in downtown Athens as well as at the corner of Timothy Road and Atlanta Highway, and the Target shopping center off Atlanta Highway. He also accepts donations to purchase art supplies.