A few months ago, the first exhibition for disabled artist Sarah Biffin opened at a gallery in London. It’s the first exhibition of her work in 100 years. This artist has one fascinating story, which is gaining more recognition even one century later.
Sarah Biffin was born in Somerset, England, in 1784. She was one of five siblings; her father was a farm worker and shoemaker. She was also born without arms or hands due to a rare condition called phocomelia.
Despite her disability, Sarah was determined to find ways to live a normal life and pursue her passions at a young age.
By the time she was only 8 years old, she had taught herself how to thread a needle, sew, and write using only her mouth. As a child, she also developed a love for painting and drawing.
Then, by the time Sarah was a teenager, a showman named Emmanuel Dukes made an offer to her parents to perform as an attraction in his traveling sideshows.
Her parents accepted the offer, and Sarah became a part of Dukes’ company for about 15 years. She was featured in what was essentially a freak show and received poor pay and few benefits.
However, Sarah improved tremendously as an artist during her years on the road. She became especially gifted in miniature portraits and landscapes.
In 1808, during one of the fairs she was featured in, her artistry also caught the attention of the Earl of Morton.
He was fascinated with Sarah’s work and paid for a portrait of himself. After every single day that Sarah worked on the portrait, though, he would take the painting home to ensure that it was all Sarah’s work; that no one else had touched it behind the scenes.