The roots of the MFPA go back to 1956, when Erich Stegmann, a polio-stricken mouth painter, gathered a small band of disabled artists from eight European countries. Their ultimate goal was to make their living through their artistic efforts, and to obtain a sense of work security that until then had eluded them.
Coupling his creative abilities with business acumen, Stegmann established the MFPA as a co-operative organisation that reproduces its artists work mainly in the form of cards, calendars and books.
From the small group he gathered for the inaugural meeting of the Association of Mouth and Foot Painting Artists, the group has now grown to represent nearly 700 members, from 74 countries around the world.
One of the main themes of Stegmann’s credo was that the MFPA must never be regarded as a charity simply because its members are disabled.
To Stegmann, the word “charity” was as abhorrent as the word “pity.” The Association maintains that it is not a charity and does not qualify for charitable assistance.
The Mouth and Foot Painting Artists (MFPA) is an international organization, controlled by its artist members, whose purpose is to:
The New Zealand MFPA is a member of the International Association of Mouth and Foot Painting Artists, which conducts its affairs from the headquarters in Liechtenstein. This location was originally chosen because of its neutral role in post-war politics, its central position in Europe and the advantages of the internationally acceptable Swiss Franc.
The managing board of the Association makes all of the important decisions and oversees the work of the few able-bodied administration and professional staff employed by the organization.
The Association’s administrative costs are closely controlled. A small number of able-bodied staff are employed to look after marketing, distribution and those matters with which the disabled artists need expert advice or cannot physically cope themselves.
Anyone who has lost the use of their hands and paints by holding the brush in their mouth or with their feet, regardless of race, creed or colour can join MFPA.
The Association has three qualifying levels: Student Member; Associated Member and Full Member. The majority of artists are typically admitted as student members. Students are provided with a grant to pay for tuition, art materials, etc. To maintain consistently high standards, students’ work is periodically reviewed by a panel of assessors until they achieve a standard which enables them to be accepted as full members.
The panel of assessors includes the serving MFPA President or his/her appointed delegate and two eminent and recognized able-bodied artists. When approved, the managing board can admit the new member/student, subject to ratification by the members at the next delegates’ convention.
In New Zealand, many MFPA artists give talks and demonstrations to schools and other interested groups, offering a better understanding of the work being done by the Association and the outstanding possibilities available to the disabled given the opportunity.
Artists are the sole benefactors of the Association’s financial objectives. Student members receive a scholarship to help improve their standard of painting by providing funds for materials, tuition, etc. This provides them with the means to become an associate or full member of the Association. As a student improves, the scholarship is increased.
When a student has reached a standard judged to be the equivalent to that of non-disabled professionals, associate or full membership is granted.
Membership means that they will receive a monthly income for life regardless of whether increasing disability makes it impossible for them to continue providing artwork that the Association can market.
This arrangement removes a great fear from the disabled artist – the possibility of losing one’s ability to paint through deteriorating health.
Membership enables the artist to concentrate on painting, secure in the knowledge that business matters are being handled according to their wishes by experienced professionals.
Members also benefit from interaction with each other. Members and students have the opportunity to meet at the Association’s conferences, exhibitions and other events, where they are able to gather, interact and learn from each other.