Walter Gunn stepped wrong the night of Nov. 3, 2015, and fell headlong from the deck on his South Bend home.
He didn’t fall far, only six or seven feet, but he landed on his head and broke the third and fourth vertebrae in his neck.
“I knew right away, after I caught my breath, I knew that I was paralyzed,” he says. “All I could do was wait for my wife to come out and find me, which she did.”
While he waited, Gunn says, he remained calmed.
“Oddly, I had no fear,” he says. “I knew I was paralyzed. I thought, ‘This is a revolting development. I’m paralyzed.'”
That sort of dry, self-effacing sense of humor evident in his “revolting development” comment certainly helped Gunn through the next few months as he underwent surgery the next day in South Bend and then six weeks of therapy at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.
But so did painting.
Since his sophomore year at the University of Illinois in the 1950s, Gunn has been an artist. After stints with General Electric in Milwaukee and a large consulting firm in Chicago, he and his wife, Nancy, moved to South Bend, where they raised their three children, Nathan, Natalie and Noelle, and he founded Omnicraft Inc.
The company specialized in graphic design and creating and building trade show exhibits for companies across the country.
After Gunn, 81, sold Omnicraft and retired, he turned to fine arts, an avocation that looked as if it had ended with his accident.
“I could barely pick up a pencil, and I thought, ‘How am I going to do art?'” he says. “That was very disconcerting to me.”
But he persevered and continued to relearn how to walk and use his hands. A few weeks later, he says, “I managed to pick up a pencil or chalk or pastel, and I scratched something out.”
Fast-forward to now, and Gunn has progressed well beyond scratching out something.
The 75 or so paintings in the exhibit “From Paralysis to Recovery” — through Sept. 14 at the Salvation Army Kroc Center — are exquisite, each one technically precise and aesthetically beautiful.
To read more about Walter's story and view some of his work, visit The South Bend Tribune.