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True art from false limbs

A polka-dot prosthesis led Priscilla down a surprisingly new path. She found a way to turn her misfortune into a creative career of false limbs.

Priscilla Sutton

Priscilla Sutton, 32, Fortitude Valley, Qld

The decision had taken me weeks. Peach would suit me, I thought. Then again, part of me was tempted to go for a striking black instead.

But I wasn't deciding which dress to buy. I was selecting the design for my new false leg.

My right leg had been amputated below the knee four years earlier.

A congenital bone disease caused me to be born without a fibula bone in my calf. As a result my right leg had looked very skinny and my foot curled in on itself. Growing up, my leg didn't bother me. But in my 20s, it started causing me a lot of pain.

After doing some internet research I realised I'd be more able-bodied if I had it removed.

Prosthesis legs

Amputees run marathons, I thought, quickly realising I'd be able to do more than I could with my bad leg. I was petrified, but I knew it was the right decision.

After the operation at the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital, I felt relieved. 'This is the first day of my new life,' I said.

I was given a false leg, but found it impractical for sport because it was too bulky. I decided to get a new leg that would allow me to jog, sprint and jump.

Now, as I sat in the prosthesis clinic, I just wasn't sure which design to get. Then I noticed a little girl having a consultation.

'What kind of leg would you like?' the specialist asked.

The girl thought for a minute. 'Dora the Explorer!' she replied.

'No problem,' he laughed.

Priscilla SuttonAs well as the standard skin colours, prosthetists were able to personalise limbs by wrapping a piece of fabric round the base and hardening it with resin. Then I had a brainwave - why shouldn't I have a fun design too?

That afternoon, walking around Spotlight, a piece of red and white polka-dot fabric jumped out at me. That's it! I thought excitedly.

Pulling on my fancy false leg a couple of weeks later, I was full of confidence. And as I walked down the street, I saw people looking at me. While I was used to strangers staring at my false leg, this was different.

Before, people usually wanted to know the details of how I'd lost my leg. I loved that the focus had shifted to something positive.

It got me thinking. If the clinic could customise false limbs, then why couldn't artists too?

I decided to gather unwanted prosthetics, get them decorated and put them together in an art exhibition.

Prosthetic eyeSpreading the word through online forums and support groups, I soon had over 40 limbs, including hands, arms and legs. I even had an eye!

Then I emailed artists, jewellers and cobblers to see if they would be interested in helping out. The response was phenomenal. And after six months of hard work, the results were simply fantastic.

We had all sorts of weird and wonderful creations. A knee joint had been transformed into a beautiful vase and the eye had been used as the centrepiece of a glamorous hat.

Thousands of visitors flocked to the Brisbane Powerhouse to see my Spare Parts exhibition in November last year.

Knowing I'd had the chance to change people's perceptions of prosthetics made me really proud. I'm hoping to take my idea to galleries worldwide.

My new false leg was always supposed to help me walk further, but my fancy polka-dot prosthetic has given me a whole new path to tread. I just can't believe how far it's taken me.

For more on the Spare Parts exhibition

As told to Keeley Henderson
Photos: Dane Beesley/Jody Haines
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