Expression of Freedom

West Wendover teen envisions blending her art and community service

By Dianna Troyer

Fawn Neaman headshotGripping a paintbrush in her teeth, Fawn Neaman dips it in black and white acrylic paints to create a portrait.

Facial features steadily appear as she patiently paints in her bedroom.

“Everyone in life has a reason for living,” says Fawn, who graduated from West Wendover High School in June. “I just needed to find mine. Art is my reason.”

She says her passion for art began after a life-altering event. In 2013, as a third-grader, she was paralyzed.

“I became a quadriplegic, so I learned to draw and paint with my mouth,” Fawn says. “Even with obstacles given to me, I still manage to find positive aspects of life every day. Art has helped me notice what they are.”

Fawn says her love for painting started because she needed a new expression of freedom.

“I love doing my artwork because it brings me challenges and pushes my limits within my comfort zones,” she explains. “Being able to create my truth is important because I’m not able to express it with my actions. I have to let the paint and paintbrush do the actions. I love art because it’s a form of communication.”

Fawn learned drawing and painting techniques at Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City.

“I stayed at the hospital for around three months and learned how to adjust to my new lifestyle,” she says. “I started to learn how to write using a mouth-stick stylus. It was a difficult process. In fourth grade, I began drawing.”

Resilient and creative, Fawn adapted.

Fawn Neaman, a quadriplegic, paints with a brush gripped between her teeth. She learned the technique as a patient at Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City. Photo courtesy of Fawn Neaman

“In fifth grade, I learned to write upside down because I wasn’t able to reach the top of the paper and didn’t want to rely on someone else,” she says.

During eighth grade, she began taking her art skills seriously.

“That’s when I began taking art classes and loved it and have continued ever since,” she says.

Jodi Schulz, her art teacher since eighth grade, says Fawn’s outlook on life and talent impress her.

“She has been an absolute joy and inspiration in my life,” Jodi says. “Fawn’s artistic talent is exceptional. She shows tremendous grit and determination in excelling at everything that she does. Fawn is also incredibly wise and insightful. Her most recent work has taken on a narrative that reflects her passion for helping others.”

One of Fawn’s recent portraits of a young woman titled “Me Too” took best in show at the annual Elko County Student Art Show.

“Given Fawn’s positive outlook and quiet resolve in the face of adversity, there is no doubt that she will be successful at whatever she chooses to pursue,” Jodi says.

At home, Fawn paints mainly in her room.

“I have a speaker and TV for background noise,” she says. “It helps me focus on my subject. If I need to, sometimes I’ll paint upstairs in the kitchen or living room.”

Fawn prefers using acrylics to paint black-and-white portraits.

“I’ve explored many areas such as scenery and designs, but found my comfort area is painting portraits,” she says.

When she started to paint, Fawn chose watercolors. Curious about other mediums, she began to explore.

“I’m getting comfortable with acrylics,” she says. “I’d like to eventually try oil paints and charcoals, and to expand my artwork to more than images and to use more color as I continue to paint pictures.”

Fawn’s portrait won best in show at the annual Elko County Student Art Show this spring. Photo courtesy of Fawn Neaman

While taking art classes in high school, Fawn also enrolled in online classes at Great Basin College. She plans to become a fulltime online student there.

“I’ve learned the history of displayed artwork through the centuries and also had the opportunity to further develop my talent,” Fawn says. “I look forward to taking more classes there.”

Eventually, Fawn wants to combine two professions—such as art and human service—“as a way to steer our society positively,” she says.

Fawn had the opportunity to do that last year when she was involved in painting a mural on the side of the West Wendover Recreation Center.

Titled “Two Cities, One Community,” the mural shows the statue of Wendover Will to represent the gambling economy of West Wendover, Nevada. Beside it, paratroopers float downward to represent Wendover, Utah, where an air base was established during World War II.

“I wanted to show that families all came together during the pandemic to help each other even though we have two high schools and two towns,” she says.

As she paints, Fawn envisions her future.

“I’d like to open a gallery in my community to make people aware of the immense talent we have here despite our small population,” she says. “Eventually, I hope to display my artwork nationwide, inspiring others to use art for self-expression. I hope my art gives meaning to people’s lives and helps them choose how they want to define their lives.”