© 2024 KUNR
Illustration of rolling hills with occasional trees and a radio tower.
Serving Northern Nevada and the Eastern Sierra
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
iPhone users: Having trouble listening live on KUNR.org? Click here to download our app to listen to your favorite shows.

The art of perseverance: Connor Fogal’s story

A man wearing a head brace with a paint brush attached to it is painting a mural.
Maria Palma
KUNR Public Radio
Connor Fogal paints his most recent mural project, “Emerald Bay,” at the John and Geraldine Lilley Museum of Art at the University of Nevada, Reno on Jan. 22, 2024.

A new mural at the University of Nevada, Reno is being painted by Connor Fogal, a 30-year-old artist who was born with cerebral palsy.

Lately, Connor Fogal can be seen at the Lilley Museum of Art, where he is working on his most recent mural project, “Emerald Bay.”

On a recent Monday afternoon, he mixed blue and white paint with a little water on a palette using a paintbrush attached to a head brace. Then, Fogal adjusted his wheelchair height and began to paint with slow but steady movements.

Nearby, a group of friends helped paint the upper portion of the mural.

A man painting a mural while sitting in a wheelchair.
Maria Palma
KUNR Public Radio
Connor Fogal paints his most recent mural project, “Emerald Bay,” at the John and Geraldine Lilley Museum of Art at the University of Nevada, Reno on Jan. 22, 2024.

Fogal was born with cerebral palsy, a group of permanent disorders that affect his physical mobility and speech. But this hasn’t stopped him from being an active member of the community. In addition to painting, he is a photographer, skier, bodybuilder and skydiver.

He was born in 1993 in Chico, California. His parents, Russell and Theresa Fogal, who were foster parents for critical-care babies, mostly drug-affected, have supported him unconditionally.

“He was born tox positive for methamphetamines. And then, when he was probably six months old, they said, ‘Well, he has cerebral palsy.’ And I was shocked,” Theresa said.

The Fogals were told Connor would never talk or walk. But they decided to teach him to live without limits.

“He was ours from the day we got him home. We never put restrictions on him at all. We always said ‘whatever you want to do, we’ll make sure there’s a way we get it done,’ ” Russell said.

A selfie with a man and his parents. They are looking toward the camera and smiling.
Courtesy of Connor Fogal
Connor (from left), Russell and Theresa Fogal.

Connor’s love of painting started at a young age. In fifth grade, he was inspired by one of his teacher’s paintings.

“Connor said, ‘I want to do that.’ And so he [the teacher] said, ‘Well, if you want to learn to paint, you first have to learn how to mix colors.’ And then he started painting,” Theresa said.

At first, he painted by holding a brush between his teeth. Now, he uses an adaptive head pointer.

“We started taping brushes to it and setting him up and letting him just do whatever he wanted to do in his head. Or he would copy some paintings because, for him, he didn’t trust his own judgment,” Theresa said.

Some of his early paintings were replicas of Edward Hopper and Vincent van Gogh.

Now Connor paints everything. He gets his inspiration from the photos he takes, he said. He loves to paint landscapes, sunsets and portraits.

“Wherever I go, I take pictures or I take mental pictures. I love anything beach, ocean, water,” Connor said.

Connor has been commissioned to paint at Options Veterinary Hospital, the Historic Lake Mansion, and for private commission. His work is a testament to his perseverance and creativity.

It has been 20 years since Connor began his painting career. Practice has made him better and faster, he said. “Emerald Bay” is likely to take him about four months. Smaller projects take him a couple of days or even hours.

Connor hopes to continue doing other murals and show his art to the world. His dream is to become an art teacher and keep living without limits.

A man is looking toward the camera and smiling while sitting in a wheelchair. His artwork, ranging from smaller to larger paintings, are displayed behind him.
Courtesy of Connor Fogal
Connor Fogal displays his art at Food Truck Friday in Reno, Nev., in 2022.

Tattoo artist Jay Dee Skinner is one of Connor’s friends and volunteers helping him with the mural.

“I think if anybody with a conscience opens their eyes and sees somebody who’s born with cerebral palsy, in a wheelchair their entire life, is somebody with endless hurdles, still able to make magic happen every single day – it’s just powerful. We love him, and we’re just here to help him,” Skinner said.

Community members and students are invited to watch Connor’s work, said Stephanie Gibson, director of the Lilley Museum of Art.

“It’s amazing to watch Connor problem solve with his headpiece that he uses to paint. I hope visitors and students and community members can come by and just watch how Connor paints. It’s beautiful, and it's pretty inspiring,” Gibson said.

Connor wants everyone to know that he can do it all, but in a different way.

“I physically got a normal brain that’s stuck in this body, so before you start judging, try to communicate with us, because there are a lot of rude people,” Connor said.

Maria joined KUNR Public Radio in December 2022 as a staff reporter. She is interested in stories about underserved communities, immigration, arts and culture, entertainment, education and health.