For someone who could barely communicate for the first 30 years of his life, Peter Rowe – artist, illustrator, writer and performer – has certainly made up for lost time.
Peter William Rowe was born in December 1964 with Down syndrome. Speech was, and still is, difficult for Peter due to muscle tone and movement difficulties associated with his disability. For 30 years he could communicate only on a very restricted level and his family and those who know him believed he had very little understanding and comprehension.
But Peter’s life changed dramatically in 1994 when he was introduced to Facilitated Communication (FC) – a strategy that allows him to communicate by pointing to letters on a keyboard. Learning to communicate through Facilitated Communication has opened up a whole new world of personal and creative expression for Peter.
Previously unable to express his everyday thoughts and feelings, FC has unleashed Peter’s innate creativity and he has become a prolific and insightful writer. His writings cover many genres including poetry, short stories, fantasy, children’s stories and narratives on his own life. Peter has self-published seven children’s books including a four-book Josh the Robot series, which saw him team up with a graphic designer to produce all of the stunning illustrations. He started a Creative Writing degree at the University of the Sunshine Coast in 2009 (now on hold) and is currently working on a new Josh book, and a memoir with the assistance of a ghostwriter.
Peter is also a longstanding member of a unique creative writing group called “The Brotherhood of the Wordless. All its members are without speech and use Facilitated Communication to write their extraordinary poems and prose on life and disability. They regularly perform their creative works at writing festivals and public venues alongside performance poet David ‘Ghostboy’ Stavenger. The group has also produced a popular anthology Tapping on the Heart of the World, with a second due out at the end of 2012.
One of Peter’s favourite artistic pursuits involves his love of music. In 2003 Peter teamed up with internationally renowned musician, composer and instrument maker, Linsey Pollock and local singer Terri Delaney to form a musical trio called QWERTY. This innovative group used improvisation in its purest form and performed extensively at local and interstate festivals and events.
Art was introduced into Peter’s life as a form of therapy to help him overcome the emotional trauma of physical and sexual abuse suffered at a residential facility. But Peter’s art has developed beyond therapy and he has become a talented artist in his own right. He has had several exhibitions of his art, which sells steadily and has gone all over the world. A series of three paintings won an award at the 2010 Art From The Margins exhibition and was subsequently purchased for their collection and touring exhibition. In 2011 Peter started working with a new art teacher who has helped him branch out into new media, including pastels and sculpture, which has produced a new wave of creative output.
Peter also enjoys helping others to understand what it is like to have complex communication needs through presentations at conferences and training support staff from a variety of organisations. He often teaches Disability Services staff, uni students and individuals in the use of Facilitated Communication.
Through his art, writing, music and community education, Peter is actively becoming a popular role model for people with a disability. The process of becoming a published writer and exhibiting artist has opened many doors and helped him grow professionally, but ultimately he wants to inspire others with a disability to express themselves creatively and to show the wider ‘non-disabled’ community that people with a disability can contribute in so many valuable ways to the greater good of all humanity.
Peter now lives at home with his parents who are a great support to him in all of his creative endeavours.