Accident sparks creative ability Hicks didn’t know he had

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 31, 2005

More than a work of art, the painting chosen to adorn the 2005 Great Mississippi River Balloon Race posters and T-shirts embodies his love for Natchez, the designer said.

&uot;Doing this work brought back so many memories to me,&uot; said Silas Simmons &uot;Sim&uot; Hicks, who lives in Atlanta with his wife, Cameron.

&uot;I remember so many things about growing up in Natchez, playing at Duncan Park, Little League ballgames, swimming at Belwood, playing in the streets,&uot; he said.

Email newsletter signup

His boyhood took a dramatic turn in 1994, when he was 17 and a student at St. Stanislaus in Bay St. Louis. In a diving accident in the Gulf of Mexico, he injured his spinal cord and was left paralyzed from the chest down.

The accident has not stopped him from pursuing life to its fullest, he said. He went on to the University of Mississippi, receiving a B.A. degree in design and in history; and then to Savannah School of Art and Design to complete a master’s degree.

At Network Communications Inc., he works on computers, creating designs, photo and graphics, used in magazine advertisements.

How does he work? &uot;I use a No. 2 pencil,&uot; he said, showing how the pencil is used on computer keys.

Although he does not have full use of his fingers, he can control his hands. Holding a pencil or a paintbrush either with one or between both hands, he makes whatever moves or strokes required for his task.

&uot;I’ve done just about anything a young man my age could do,&uot; Hicks, who will be 29 in December, said. &uot;I have a good job. I’m married. And we are expecting our first child in March. It’s exciting.&uot;

With no bitterness about his paralysis, he smiles easily and speaks openly, even graciously, about his experiences. He is comfortable with the challenge. &uot;It’s been interesting to see how my life has changed,&uot; he said. &uot;Being in a wheelchair by no means limits my quality of life. From April 16, 1994, to now has been an adventure.&uot;

Prior to the accident, he had not dabbled in art at all. In the hospital during rehabilitation and recovery, he found drawing a good way to pass the time. &uot;It stuck with me,&uot; he said.

At Ole Miss, he took painting classes, learning more about training his eye and about drawing techniques. Then he discovered the computer.

&uot;A professor introduced me to the computer. He was looking out for me. He said, ‘there are a lot of starving artists out there; you should be employable despite your disability.’&uot;

He took the professor’s advice. He learned to manipulate the computer for design, trying for highest quality work at the fastest pace. &uot;I can keep up with anyone,&uot; he said.

For years, he has watched balloon race T-shirt and poster designs come and go. He felt an urge to try a design of his own, contacted the Historic Natchez Foundation and learned how to submit his design.

&uot;It’s been a wonderful process,&uot; Hicks said, reflecting further on his hometown. &uot;We’re blessed to have a place like this to call home.&uot;

He has dedicated his balloon race art to his grandfather, the late Harold Hicks, who died earlier this year, and to his father, Silas Simmons Hicks.

&uot;Without either of their involvement in my life, there is no way I’d be sitting here today,&uot; he said. &uot;They played a big role in my becoming an artist as well as becoming a man.&uot;

At the time of his injury, he heard doctors say that he probably would not be able to write again. &uot;I said to myself that I may be different but I will adapt and change and I’ll learn to accomplish what I want to do,&uot; he said.

He sees things clearly, Hicks said. &uot;I think that happens when you go through a near-death experience. I know life’s too short and too busy to think about the past.&uot;

Sure, he wonders sometime what he might be doing, what differences there might be in his life had the accident not occurred.

&uot;But do you want to go back to those days? No,&uot; he said. &uot;It’s been an enjoyable process.&uot;