BONNERS FERRY — Despite being blind in one eye, 59-year-old Mickey Hughes brings depth and clarity to his artwork. His pencil drawings of people and animals are capturing the attention of the Bonners Ferry art community, yet he has not had much of a chance to share his work with the general public.
Hughes lives off the grid in an old motorhome on property he inherited from his mother, who recently died. His mother was the inspiration behind the hundreds of drawings that he has completed since 2004, almost all off them created as gifts for her.
Hughes had a difficult childhood, suffering abuse at the hands of his father. He believes his blindness in one eye, and deafness in one ear, are due to being struck in the head repeatedly as a child. He recalls being 5 years old and walking two miles through the forest, which frightened him, so that he could hide from his father by spending his days fishing.
“I fished every day,” said Hughes. “I would go to school and the kids teased me because my hands smelled like fish, but it was my escape to get away.”
“People were so afraid of my father that nobody stepped in,” Hughes explained.
By the time he was 12, he left home.
“I was taken out of my father’s house at gunpoint by my brother and shipped to California.”
Many years later, as an adult, and despite suffering anxiety and other adverse effects from his traumatic childhood, Hughes chose to turn his adversity into art.
“It inspired me, being abused, to do something good. To show that that’s not the end. To stand up and pull myself out of something that could have been tragic,” said Hughes.
Hughes turned to creating music, poetry, and drawings. He attributes his success to the passion he has always had through it all, and his faith.
“My faith in God is my catalyst and he gave me this gift of love to share with this world,” said Hughes. “Coming from my childhood, a really dysfunctional family and leaving home so early, I didn’t know if I wanted to live. I wanted God to give me a gift, and I actually sat down and prayed for that.”
Hughes always had an affinity for mathematics. In first grade, the school wanted to place him ahead in third or fourth grade, but he was picked on for being so small, so he went back to first grade. Today he uses that skill in his artwork.
“I’m using mathematics and I duplicate, as a computer would. All those pictures came from little pictures,” Hughes explained. “I taught people to draw using my theory of mathematics and stuff. It’s pretty cool.”
The method gives Hughes the ability to accurately pay homage to the many people and animals that he draws from photographs. In his collection are many famous musicians, actors, and historical figures, from Kid Rock to Mother Teresa.
What changes Hughes’ work from simply an intricate interpretation, is the expressions that he captures and portrays in the eyes of his subjects.
“The eyes are the portals to the soul. The eyes are beautiful. The eyes are jewels,” said Hughes. “Every one of us has different eyes, different colors and different dimensions.”
Hughes’ work caught the attention of artists from the Boundary County Artist Association, and his work was chosen to be displayed as Artist of The Month. He backed out at the last minute, embarrassed because he could not afford to have his drawings framed.
“Mick has an extraordinary gift, the ability to capture an image’s very essence with only pencil and paper,” said Boundary County Artist Association President Vicki Bleile. “Pure natural talent.”
Despite the setback, Hughes is now searching for frames, and hopes to build some out of barnwood when he has a place to work. His dream is to build a small cabin on his property and open a secondhand store where he can give away clothing and items to the less fortunate that may not have courage to ask for help.
“These pictures are because I have a passion. I almost gave up, and this is what the world would have missed if I had checked out,” said Hughes. “There is hope and a future if we truly seek to better ourselves.”