Ballard News Tribune
John Lustig, October 21, 81

Brom Wikstrom’s feet began to slip out of position in the wheelchair and his brother, Bill, quickly steadied him — calmly putting everything right. It was almost a reflex action, accomplished as naturally as a blink. A small thing, it took place without comment and was over in an instant. But it seemed to say a lot about the bond between the two — the simple, steady way in which the brothers look out for each other.

And perhaps that, as much as anything, explains why the two-man show of their art from Oct.22 through Nov. 18 at the Arthead Gallery, 5411 Meridian Ave. N., will probably be so special. It won’t be because the two are brothers. Or because Bill, 29, has a live-in studio behind the little Wallingford gallery. Or even because Brom, 28, is a quadriplegic and must paint with a brush clenched between his teeth.

It will be special because in a way the show is a culmination of all the other special things the brothers have shared through the years. Love. Art. Hard times. And, in a strange way, even death. Brom’s initial brush with mortality came six years ago when he wa in New Orleans. The young Magnolia artist had decided to go swimming in the Mississippi River. I took a running dive off the beach remembered Brom calmly. That’s when I dove into some shallow water and broke my neck and injured my spinal cord between my fifth and sixth vertebrae . . . I didn’t knock myself unconscious. I managed to hold my breath until my roommate finally came over and turned me over. I was on my last bit of breath when he finally did realize that I was in trouble.

From Brom’s description, the New Orleans hospital to which he was taken was medically just this side of a torture chamber. Shortly after the accident, Bill arrived in New Orleans and began to take charge of the scene. Unable to speak because of an oxygen tube that had been stuck through a hole in his neck, Brom began to rely on his brother as a buffer between him and the hospital staff. “He had to learn to read my lips,” said Brom. “We were constantly running out of supplies, bandages, suctioning hoses — and Bill would be running around in the other wards snatching up the other supplies, making sure that we had our own.

“Little things like that did bring us quite a bit closer.” Later, something happened that would bring them even closer. Brom died. At least Brom thinks he died.

I was down there in what they call ‘a circle bed’. It has a motor on it, and it’s got belts and things to bring you from your back to your stomach and back again... And it was time to go to my back. So Brom was strapped down. The motor was turned on, and the bed started turning him over. But during the process, something went wrong. My feet got tangled up in the mechanism and it loosened the straps around me. I started slipping out of bed. My chin went up and it pressed this (oxygen) tube against the bed and tore the thing out of my neck.

The next sensation was this bright, bright light. It was a real comfortable feeling. I was totally conscious. I wasn’t thinking in any other terms than I normally do. But I was just in awe of this bright light. And I was in motion. I was really speeding towards this light. It wasn’t necessarily up or down, but it was out — and I could hear a rushing wind sound.

At some point during all this, Brom realized that he was dead. He remembered the oxygen tube being torn from his neck. And he realized that unless he wanted to stay dead, he’d better do something. The only thing that came to me was to try and get back in touch with my body. I tried to blink, shrug my shoulders, move my head — do anything. Because I couldn’t feel my body. I could just see this light. Finally, I started hearing people, and the first voice I heard was my brother, Bill. He was saying ‘Come on, Brom. Come on.’ I kept hearing that, and then this light that I had been experiencing began to fade. I went into a blackness just before I came around.

Later, doctors would begin to get worried about Brom. He seemed too happy — too well-adjusted to the injury that had rendered his legs useless and severely restricted the use of his hands. It didn’t seem natural. The doctors kept trying to make him cry, explained Bill.

I don’t know ,where that comes from, said Brom. I’ve always been a real happy, well-adjusted human being. I think when something like this happens... there’s some kind of inner strength that you reach for. My faith in God just went through the roof — because I was preparing to meet my maker... I was able to fall back on (faith) and really build it up and that’s what really gives me strength. That’s what keeps me happy. During the year Brom spent recovering at University Hospital in Seattle, he kept busy by concentrating on his art. With a brush between his teeth and a lot of practice, he slowly developed the agility and control to match and finally perhaps surpass his old skills.

You don’t really paint with your hands or your toes or your mouth, said Brom. You paint with your mind. Meanwhile, Bill has been busy working up to 20 hours a week for Brom (through the state’s Chore program), helping Brom with the little things he can’t do for himself. Bill also works at the Ballard U-Frame-It Shop and somehow manages to fit in his art career as well as playing in a band.

Unlike Brom, Bill didn’t grow up knowing that he wanted to be an artist. Torn between a love of music and art, he experimented with both. The former underground artist now concentrates on paintings, etchings and sculptures — all of them done in a realistic fashion, but in styles ranging from approaches reminiscent of the Old Masters to those evoking a deliberately primitive effect.

Because of the accident, however, Brom is the one who usually gets all of the publicity. Sometimes that bothers him. And, therefore, it didn’t come as much of a surprise when Brom expressed concern that Bill might somehow be squeezed out this article as well.

Once again, the brothers were looking out for each other.

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