Imagine producing intricate works of art that can take hundreds of hours to complete. Now, imagine a legally blind artist with only a pindot of vision remaining in both eyes carrying on the tradition of one of the oldest art forms in North America. Jim Stevens is an exceptional inspiration representing the fine art of scrimshaw, where most of his masterpieces unfold across the distinctive canvas of ivory. He is a true testament to never abandoning your love of art.
“I lost my eyesight in just 30 minutes,” says Stevens referring to the bullet fragments that caused a stroke in his visual cortex twenty-three years after being shot in the head during a combat mission in Vietnam. “My career, my wife, my future, and my self-worth soon followed.”
After the stroke, Stevens also lost the confidence to continue creating art – a passion he possessed ever since he was a child spending time in his grandmother’s commercial art studio. “I finally had to accept being blind,” says Stevens, “but once I did, I also accepted the fact that to have a life, I would have to reinvent my life.”
In 2000, Stevens decided to become a full-time artist despite his disability, and started by locating special lenses to aid his technical skills. It would take him two more years to relearn his craft. Stevens’ clientele started on the local level, and word-of mouth played a large role in eventually attracting out-of-state and international admirers of his work. He later built his own website, and started taking on commissions.
Commissioned pieces for a sculpture or carving can range from 20 to over 900 hours of work. His body of work includes custom pistol grips, designer pendants, key chains, necklaces, and a belt buckle made out of antler. Images of Capone, Scarface, and a pin-up girl grace the customized handles of automatic knives.
However, the piece that Stevens remembers the most came at the request of his youngest daughter. “It was my first carving after losing my sight,” he says. “And when I felt I just couldn’t do it, she would remind me that I promised not to quit.”
It wasn’t long before commissioned pieces were being requested by the likes of private collectors and New York jewelry designers. Stevens was later asked to teach scrimshaw at the NRA Gunsmithing School. Notes from these classes caught the eye of Schiffer Publishing, which led to him penning three published books on art.
Today, Stevens’ art appears in galleries across the country, and is collected internationally.
Jim offers the following advice to aspiring artists: “I think success in art grows from finding a niche that you’re good at, making a name for yourself within that niche and then expanding on your reputation into other areas of art that interest you. It has certainly worked that way for me.”
Jim can be found on April 18, 2013 at the Wheat Ridge Cultural Commission “Meet the Artist” one man show. You can also find Jim on Facebook.