Video by Ilea Shutler. Produced by David Fritze.
“Conversations” is a series of video interviews with Oklahomans about subjects that relate to some of the state’s important issues. The 2016-2017 series is sponsored by the Chickasaw Nation and is made possible by a grant from the Institute for Nonprofit News.
Greg Burns is profoundly unfortunate and immensely blessed.
Born with arthrogryposis, which prevents or limits joint movement, Burns learned how to paint holding a brush in his mouth and became one of the best-known artists in Oklahoma. An Oklahoma City native, he shaped a career with a mixture of determination, artistic skill and the love and support of his family and wife Patricia.
Burns has said he cannot remember a time in his life when he wasn’t drawing. Because of his physical limitations, he gravitated toward painting with a Crow Quill pen and watercolor, eventually producing intricate paintings of iconic structures and landscapes in Oklahoma and elsewhere. He and Patricia operated a gallery and frame shop from 1986 to 2006, and now sell his paintings on his website.
Burns sports a dry wit. He notes with amusement that he has painted many old buildings that were not equipped to allow him to enter on his own. The world is much better at accommodating and treating the disabled, he said, but “it’s still a mixed bag, I think. There’s still probably prejudice out there.” Like many, he was taken aback by now President-elect Donald Trump’s mocking of a disabled New York Times reporter during the campaign. Like Burns, that reporter has arthrogryposis.
“You’re alarmed at first,” he said of the incident. Then, “I thought, well maybe this is a sign that disabled people are being treated equally bad by Donald Trump. I mean, why should we have some special deal?”