Anderson artist finds beauty in adversity

Anderson Artist Paints
James at work

ANDERSON, Mo. -James Wanders is a man who knows what it means to struggle. In fact, “struggle” is the name of one of his award winning paintings.

“The struggle doesn’t ever end. You know, my paintings are talking to me about my life, about our lives,” he reflected.

When he looks back over the years, Wanders feels compelled to share his story of being burned and rising from the ashes. It all began on Thanksgiving Day, back in 1971 when a then 13-year-old James was burning dead chickens on his parent’s poultry farm in Neosho, Missouri.

“I poured this diesel fuel on a bunch of chickens inside a 55 gallon barrel and the can blew up in my hands as I was pouring it in there…that’s when the fire just poured down me like water. Just whoosh! I rolled like they tell you to, but diesel fuel is an oil-based type fuel and it wasn’t going out. Right out of football season, I took off running,” he recalled.

His stepfather managed to stop him and put out the flames, but the damage was done. 85% of Wanders’ body was covered with third degree burns. When he regained consciousness, one of his hands had already been amputated. Most of a leg and his other hand would soon follow. The pain was excruciating.

“They took all the skin off the bottom of my feet and the top of my head every 14 days for 8 months. Skinned me alive,” he said.

Finding Beauty in the Pain

Despite his suffering and setbacks, Wanders remained determined to succeed. He was at the top of his welding class at Crowder College and continues to create art, paintings and sculptures with just as much character as him.

“People have no comprehension of what I can do with metal hands. They always have seen me as handicapped until I get on a pool table with them and beat them real bad, and then they realize, ‘Wait a minute, this guy’s got an advantage, not a disadvantage.'”

Wanders gives all the glory to God, thanking Him for his beautiful wife and children, hoping his story will help someone else who may be going through adversity, encouraging them to seek a higher vantage point for perspective.

“I don’t want anybody to suffer at all, but I know suffering is what brought me around to who I am now,” Wanders admitted.

After being diagnosed with cancer for the 15th time now, Wanders is began yet another round of radiation on Monday, March 14. He hopes to continue painting, building, climbing, and doing all the things he loves for as long as he can.

If you’d like to support Wanders by purchasing some of his artwork, you can check out his Facebook page.