Michael Davenport sets up his easel and cheerily asks a customer to take the cap off his red sharpie—he can’t do it on his own. When Davenport has the sharpie positioned between his teeth, a six-year-old boy and his mother watch in awe as Davenport begins sketching a detailed picture of a bulldog.
Davenport’s work is popular among Athens, Georgia residents, but even more esteemed is his story. Unlike most artists, Davenport doesn’t have arms. Instead he draws by carefully holding a pen in his mouth and connecting it to the paper with swift strokes. Davenport usually sets up his easel near The University of Georgia’s campus and always attracts an audience of spectators inspired by his story.
When Davenport, an Athens native, was a teenager, he lost both his arms in an electrical accident. Davenport said he was never an artist before the accident—he could barely draw a stick figure. He taught himself to draw after he lost his arms and has been painting for years now.
Davenport said after the accident, he was in a bad place. Later on, after he picked up art, he decided to turn his life around by focusing on his art and giving back to the community.
“I realized that there was a bigger purpose for my life, even with everything I had been through,” Davenport said.
Davenport, currently living out of an Athens motel with his wife, relies on his art as his primary source of income. What most of his fans don’t know, however, is that he is a humanitarian as well as an artist. When Davenport saves up enough to pay for the essentials, he uses the extra funds to help others that have gone through similar situations as him. He goes to hospitals and speaks encouragement to other victims who have lost limbs.
Davenport has also been known to encourage teenagers in his neighborhood to stay in school and avoid substance abuse.
Davenport has also been an inspiration for his younger cousin, Andre Cox. Cox has taken up art and though he has no formal training, he is able to produce professional work and support his family through his art. Cox can often be found with Davenport, helping him sell artwork and driving him places that are too far to walk. Cox said he grew up with Davenport and has always been inspired by his work and how much he has overcome.
Most days, you can find Davenport on the corner of Golden Pantry on Atlanta Highway, painting away. On the weekends, he likes to set up his easel and sketchpad across from the arch on north campus, impressing each passer-by who stops to watch. Davenport’s work inspires Athens locals and UGA students alike.
Nicole Weaver, 21, a third-year marketing major from Canton, Georgia, said she has been a fan of Davenport’s art since her freshman year at UGA. She was excited to finally get one of his drawings as a birthday present from her friend last year.
“The pictures are very special and really amazing to look at, but for me it is so special because of the story that lies behind it,” Weaver said. “Michael Davenport is an amazing man who has overcome an unbelievable obstacles.”
Though he still faces trials and misfortunes, Davenport’s attitude is an inspiration to everyone who knows him. Recently, Davenport’s shoulder developed an infection and he was hospitalized for several months. Davenport had been saving up to buy a house or trailer, and this was a major setback that forced him to work on his art tirelessly to make up for lost time. When speaking about the incident, however, Davenport is surprisingly positive.
“I’ve been through a lot and it hasn’t been easy,” Davenport said. “I just keep remembering that everything happens for a reason.”