Published Wednesday 29 November 2017
- Disability and Mental Health
Peter Rowe is an eloquent communicator. When he speaks about his family, his upbringing, or his life, his words paint a picture; which is fitting for someone who has been painting beautiful works of art for over ten years.
Peter isn’t just an artist. If you ask him to introduce himself, he will tell you he’s an artist, a writer, a presenter, and a game changer. The last part is important, because Peter’s had quite a journey to get to where he is today.
It’s also important to acknowledge how eloquent Peter is when he speaks – because the way he speaks is different than most, and for a very long time, Peter couldn’t really speak much at all.
Peter was born with Down Syndrome and has limited speaking ability, so he communicates via a process called facilitated communication. This means Peter, with the assistance of a facilitator, taps out letters on a board that resembles a QWERTY keyboard, and his sentences are spoken aloud by the facilitator. When Peter chats with us, Tracey Wiggins, who goes by many titles – support person, social media manager, diary-keeper, and all-round champion and supporter of the ‘Peter Rowe Show’ – is on hand to be Peter’s communication facilitator.
For Peter, growing up was hard – but through it all, he always had the love and support of his family.
“I was raised by the most wonderful parents and brothers and sisters,” says Peter. “Yes, I was born with Down Syndrome and limited verbal ability; however my family never treated me differently. If there was work to do, I had to chip in.
“I was not able to speak or share my thoughts and feelings for a very long time. My parents were told that I had very little understanding of what was happening around me. But then one day something fabulous happened. I was introduced to facilitated communication in my early 30s and my life changed.
“You cannot begin to imagine how it felt to say the words ‘I love you’ to my mother for the first time. We both cried and cried tears of joy and tears of sadness for the years that had been lost.
“Facilitated communication saved my life. It gave me a way to share my story and who I am.”
Peter found another way to share his story and communicate with the world around him – through art. Assisted by his long-term art tutor, Cheryl Nonmus, Peter paints pieces that reflect his life.
“Art, for me, came about as a form of therapy after being abused in a care facility many years ago,” Peter explains. “Art allowed me to paint through the pain and the trauma of that time. I now paint the life I love and it is no longer full of dark colours; it is full of love and light and laughter. I celebrate every moment with every colour I can.”
This year Wesley Mission Queensland is celebrating the ten year anniversary of Art from the Margins. For ten years, the art therapy program has been helping people, like Peter, raise their voice, express themselves, and connect with their community. And Peter was one of the very first participants in the program when it started back in 2007.
“My friend Ross Barber introduced me to Art from the Margins,” said Peter. “My relationship with Art from the Margins is one that is special and dear to my heart.
“Art fills my heart with so much joy, but it is so very much more than that. You see, art allows me to share my story. My words are embedded in each canvas. My voice, in every stroke of paint. So art, for me, is my way of connecting with others.
“I thank Wesley Mission Queensland and Art from the Margins for their ongoing support to both myself and others in our community.”
For Wesley Mission Queensland’s Red: A Gala Dinner this year, Peter generously donated his artwork ‘Celebration of Life’ to be auctioned off on the night. Half of the winning bid will go back to Peter, and the other half will be donated to WMQ’s Red Bag Appeal, which will help to bring joy to people in need this Christmas. ‘Celebration of Life’ will also feature as the cover image for Wesley Mission Queensland’s annual report.
“Oh, I love this piece,” says Peter. “It captures the love and happiness I feel. [The piece features] a heart that shows the love and support I receive not only from my supports, but from my mother. I love her. She is my greatest advocate and I am living the life I am because of her strength. This painting is a celebration of the life I am living.”
For someone with so much to share, from the inspiration of his life story to his honest and delightful works of art, Peter’s message to the world is simple and, of course, eloquent.
“I am grateful for having the opportunity to have found my voice. I am grateful to be able to share my story and encourage other people, regardless of their abilities, to do whatever it takes to find their voice and share who they are and where they have been. We need to look out for each other in this world. So let’s help each other to feel valued.”
If you would like to learn more about Peter Rowe and his art, please visit his website: peter-rowe.com.au
You can also learn more about Wesley Mission Queensland's health and wellness programs, including Art from the Margins.