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Disabled artist hones his skills in Porterdale

Michael Davenport grasps a thin red marker in his mouth, sketching the outline of a rose on a pad of a paper. He colors in the flower, moving his head from side to side rapidly, and then carefully uncaps a black marker using his prosthetic arm. He uses the black marker, also held with his teeth, to draw the stem, leaves and finally an outline around the flower.

Davenport couldn't draw as a young child, even though he loved comics and enjoyed tracing the characters. But when an accident left him without hands, and most of both of his arms, an artistic talent emerged.

For the past several years, Davenport has earned part of his living setting up shop on street corners in Athens and creating magic marker sketches, mostly of the University of Georgia mascot Uga, which he sells to passersby. He's also dabbled in portraits of people and pets, as well as depictions of wildlife.

"I'm not doing it for financial reasons. I do it because I love it," said Davenport.

Davenport said even with a marker in his mouth, he's learned to converse with curious people who stop and ask him questions. He enjoys the connection he makes with others through his drawing and believes his ability is inspired by God.

"It's not me. He's working through me," said Davenport.

Davenport, 41, recalls the events that led to his disability with great detail. In the spring of 1979, the then-13-year-old, who was living with his grandfather in Winterville, decided to play Tarzan and jump a gully using a discarded rope he had found. Davenport didn't realize that the "rope" was actually a piece of copper wire. When he tossed it in the air to wrap it around a tree branch, the wire missed the branch but caught onto electric power lines.

Because he wasn't wearing shoes, Davenport acted as a conductor for the 550,000 volts of current, and the electricity kept him in its grip for several minutes. Davenport said he remembers little immediately following the accident except that, near death, he felt himself drifting toward a "paradise," but then realized it wasn't his time to die.

Though Davenport escaped major damage to his brain, his body suffered severe burns and doctors amputated his entire left arm, a portion of his right arm just below the elbow and his toes. He spent several weeks in a coma and close to a year in the hospital recovering from the injuries.

Davenport said he struggled with depression during his recovery, but when he asked Jesus for help, instead of asking Jesus why the accident occurred, he found the will to carry on.

"I felt the pressure and the worry and the pain leave my body," he said.

Davenport returned to school after the accident, and he even played football for Clark Central High School, but he never graduated. He earned his GED and has worked at various jobs over the years, including as a women's clothes designer.

He depended on his grandparents for parental care and guidance, especially his grandfather Odell Barnett, whom Davenport said was his confidant and supporter. Barnett, confined to a wheelchair, motivated his grandson to get well after the accident.

"He was more of a dad to me. He was a father figure. He knew I couldn't be with my mom and dad, so he took me in," said Davenport.

Davenport lived with his grandparents from childhood into adulthood, but in 2000 his grandfather died and six years later his grandmother died. Struggling to make it on his own without support from his family, Davenport turned to alcohol to deaden the emotional pain.

Recently, Davenport has sought treatment for his alcoholism and, within the last few months, he's moved from Athens to Atlanta and to Portedale, where he now resides at the Rainbow Covenant Church Ministries transitional housing.

Davenport is determined that his homelessness is temporary and he believes that his deep faith in Jesus will provide him a path to a better life.

"I tell people God does work in mysterious ways, ways we don't know," said Davenport.

Contact Karen Rohr at karen.rohr@rockdalecitizen.com.