Painting is man's creative outlet

July 18, 2005|by JANET HEIM

Editor's note - There are a lot of people you see around town that you recognize, but don't know anything about. People like...

James "Tubby" Twyman

Age - 61

Hometown - Kearneysville, W. Va. Now lives in Hagerstown.

Where would you see Twyman? - A resident of Walnut Towers, Twyman has overcome obstacles throughout his life and is now using his creative talents to give back.

Twyman, who prefers to be called Tubby, a childhood nickname, is a wheelchair-bound quadriplegic. He discovered his artistic abilities during art therapy sessions while a resident at Western Maryland Hospital Center from 1968 to 1979.


In the past six months, Twyman has painted and given away more than 100 paintings of a hand holding a Bible. He has enough supplies to paint 125.

"I give 'em to anybody that wants them," Twyman said.

He tracks on his computer who each painting has been given to, some as far away as Philadelphia and New York. Twyman can't afford canvas, so he gets inexpensive boards cut to size at Home Depot, most being 12 inches by 24 inches.

Twyman did splurge on canvas, though, and has finished two paintings that he wanted to send to soldiers in Iraq. He recently learned from the American Red Cross office here that that won't be allowed.

With limited use of his hands, Twyman uses his teeth to get the brush in position, then puts the brush in his hands.

The religious theme reflects a faith that Twyman resisted for years, but that has helped him get beyond the tragic events of his life.

"Somehow, the Bible thing popped in my head," Twyman said.

He was one of 10 children and remembers their father moving to Hagerstown with the children when Tubby was in fourth grade. The children ended up in short-term foster care, before returning home to their father. Tubby eventually dropped out of high school.

In 1968, at age 24, Twyman was in a car accident near Martinsburg, W.Va. - the driver and all the passengers had been drinking that left him a quadriplegic. He lived at Western Maryland Hospital Center for about 10 years, until deciding to move out in 1979, even though the staff at the hospital center discouraged him.

With the help of caregivers Twyman has lived independently since - first in an apartment on Summit Avenue, then at Bethel Gardens before moving to Walnut Towers seven years ago.

Over the years, Twyman has struggled with depression, using alcohol as an escape. Perseverance, desire and faith in God helped him turn his life around, he said.

At age 38, he received his GED, then earned an associate's degree in human services in 1997 from Hagerstown Community College. Twyman, who did an internship with United Cerebral Palsy at Potomac Center, is interested in working as a counselor, but has been unable to find a job.

In addition to having served on several boards - Citizens Advisory Board at Potomac Center, Quality Assurance at Potomac Center, Development for Disability Administration - Western Region Advisory Committee at Potomac Center and the Choice Grant Board in Baltimore - Twyman is a mentor at Eastern Elementary for Big Brothers Big Sisters' school-based mentoring program. He works with his assigned student once a week during the school year.

"I'm very big into education," Twyman said.

Hobbies - Painting and writing top the list for Twyman. He took a break from painting for several years to write his autobiography, an accomplishment he is proud of.

"I love to talk to people, help people, do what I can," Twyman said.

Before his accident, Twyman loved to dance, something he described as an escape for him. Over the years, he has worked out at Gold's Gym and with hard work, was even able to walk with the help of braces and a walker.

"As a matter of fact, I think I'm more active now than when I was walking and I love it," Twyman said.

What does Twyman like best about Washington County? - Twyman remembers his early years with his family as the best. "It was so good in West Virginia. We had a farm, a nice place," he said.

While he said he's met a lot of good people since moving to Maryland, happier times as a family while living in West Virginia have clouded his feelings towards Maryland.

If you know anyone in the community who might make an interesting Our Town feature, contact Janet Heim at 301-733-5131, ext. 2024 or e-mail janeth@

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