Schimke stayed at the local county hospital for three days. Because he had served in the Public Health Service, he was considered a veteran. With Tabor’s contacts at the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, Jones got the necessary paperwork to have Schimke quickly transferred to the Palo Alto veteran’s hospital, which had a better spinal cord injury center.
In the second week after the accident, as a slow recovery loomed, Schimke says, “I remember thinking, ‘All right, Bob, what the hell are you going to do now? You better start doing something!’ I was determined I was going to get better.”
The accident left Schimke’s spinal cord damaged but not completely severed, so he has some sensory and motor capabilities in his arms and feet. “My hands are like claws. I can grab a pencil and write my name badly,” he says. “I can hold a brush.”
On his property in Palo Alto, which is almost an acre in size, Schimke does his art in a garage that has been converted into a gallery. He also makes beaded necklaces. The place is filled with his work, which includes drip paintings in the style of Jackson Pollock and a series done with masks mounted on foam boards. “I’ve painted over 400 different things in my lifetime,” says Schimke. Some of his work is on display at ASBMB headquarters in Rockville, Md.
Schimke says the artists he admires are Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso and, up to a point, Pollock. “Other than the drip paintings that he did, [Pollock] was not a very good artist,” he says. “If Jackson Pollock’s paintings are worth millions and millions of dollars, hell, I can do that stuff just as well as he could. Indeed, I can.”
An assistant helps him open up paint cans, stretch out canvases and clean up. Because of his limited movement, Schimke works on canvases stretched out on plywood and no more than four feet wide. He attaches sticks, the kind used to mix paint, to his paintbrushes so he can reach two feet across the canvas. Then he wheels himself around to the other side to get the remaining two feet. At noon sharp each day, a shrill, 19-year-old Siamese cat makes Schimke stop his work because it insists on having its lunch of turkey breast. “It eats basically what I have for lunch,” chuckles Schimke.
Despite all he has accomplished as a scientist, Schimke says he doesn’t miss science. He tried to stay in touch with his areas of expertise after his accident by continuing to serve as a JBC associate editor, but “it became obvious that I was not keeping up,” he says. “I resigned.”
He is not sure what kind of artist he would have been had the accident not happened. But he is sure of one thing: The art he would have produced would not have been “nearly as interesting and as much fun!”