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Lake House to host benefit for armless boy

William Smith, a South African child who lost his arms in a high-voltage power accident, has benefited from art therapy with funds being raised to buy prosthetic arms for him
by: Submitted photo After losing both arms in an electrical accident, 12-year-old William Smith of South Africa has learned to create art with both his mouth and feet. His artwork will be available for sale at a fundraising event at the Lake House Restaurant on Aug. 31. Proceeds from the event will be used to purchase
prosthetic arms for Smith. Below, the boy artist is pictured painting.

Curiosity, that wonderful quality that spurs children to explore life's mysteries, is what prompted 12-year-old William Smith of Hex River Valley in South Africa to climb a high-voltage power pylon on the grape farm where he was living to get a better look at a bird's nest. Smith, an orphan, was previously raised by his grandmother but now was being raised by his aunt and uncle, who also worked the farm.

Reaching for that bird's nest on Nov. 10, 2010, is the last thing Smith remembers before waking up at The Red Cross Children's Hospital in Cape Town, South Africa, a distance of two hours from Hex River Valley.

It was in the burns unit at this hospital that art therapist Sascha Archer, originally of Port Townsend, Wash., and for the last 12 years of Portland, met Smith. She was working for the organization Community Arts Therapy Programme and also ran an HIV mother's sewing group.

'When I first met William, he was mute, sedentary, depressed and highly traumatized,' said Archer. Because Smith's burns were so bad, he had to have both arms amputated. He also had bad burns on his right shin and ankle and had a drop foot.

'At first he wouldn't speak or even look at me,' Archer says. 'I started painting pictures for him and telling him stories to go with images.'

During the following weeks she introduced him to mouth painting. In what she describes as an inspired moment, Archer put a pen in her mouth and showed Smith how to write and draw. And that's when everything changed.

'That was the turning point for him,' she remembers, 'and this became his new lease on life.'

When Archer came to work the next day, Smith yelled across the ward, 'Hey Sascha, I'm ready to paint.'

Because the need became so great, Archer's volunteer days at the hospital jumped from one to six. Smith went from drawing to painting with his mouth and then on to using both feet to create art. He has also learned to swim like a dolphin with altered strokes in a pool that was nearly abandoned at the hospital. He also plays music with his feet, takes photographic self-portraits with his chin, has learned to speak English and has mastered using a laptop with a pen in his mouth.

Archer describes Smith as 'the bravest and most determined child I have ever worked with.'

In order to help raise funds for future prosthesis, educational tools and rehabilitation for Smith, Archer's childhood friend Nicolle Black, an employee at Lake House Restaurant in Lake Oswego, has organized an event for Wednesday, Aug. 31, at the restaurant. The evening will include live African music and dance by the Ghanaian band Waamba, an art show with silent auction, wine tasting and dinner. Also featured that evening will be a 26-minute inspiring documentary, 'Driving William,' the story of Smith's accomplishments as a double amputee. Archer will hold a short question and answer period after the documentary. Seating for dinner begins at 6 p.m.

Black is an artist who for the past month has painted a number of works to be auctioned especially for this event. The art may be found on her website, NicolleBlackartistpdx.com. Some of the art is on display at the Lake House but will be available for purchase only at the fundraiser Wednesday.

Also that night, Archer will bring the 50 original pieces of William's art and will take orders for copies. There will also be copies of his passbook, William's art therapy journey, on sale for $5. Cost for the evening is $100, or $150 for limited VIP tickets, with 50 percent of proceeds going directly to The William Smith Friends of the Children's Hospital Account.

You can view Smith's art and make donations at www.drivingwilliam.com.

Archer will return to visit Smith and is thoughtfully considering becoming his foster parent or even adopting him. She, with the help of a professional filmmaker, made a documentary in order to give Smith a voice and get recognition for the very limited number of art therapists in South Africa. She also wants to use the movie as a teaching tool in hospitals for other amputees and burn patients and help normalize disability culture in schools.

The Lake House is located at 40 N. State Street. For information, call 503-739-0594. To reserve tickets for the Aug. 31 event, email gm@oswegolakehouse and include Driving William in subject line. Please include your name, number in party, time of arrival and your phone number. You will then be contacted for confirmation and payment information.