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Artist paints through cancer, death and depression

Larry Ledford hurt. His shoulder pained him with every move.
The baseball player had damaged his rotator cuff before, so he thought nothing of going to the doctor for a “quick fix” before his next league game.
“This time, though, the doctor wanted an X-ray, and when he walked back into the room, his whole demeanor was changed,” Ledford said. “We went from talking and cutting up to completely quiet. I thought, ‘Wow, my rotator cuff must be really messed up.’”
The doctor clipped the X-ray to the screen, and Ledford saw nothing but decay. His shoulder seemed to be melting.
“And that’s when he told me, ‘The only thing I think it can be is cancer,” Ledford said.
In the past three years, the 36-year-old Lula resident lost almost everything — his health, his job, his mother, his house and his hope. Yet through it all, he found what he said is the most important thing in life — his purpose.

‘God gave me a talent’

When doctors diagnosed Ledford with chondrosarcoma, a type of cartilage cancer known to be resistant to chemotherapy and radiation, his thoughts turned to one thing.
“My art,” Ledford said. “I was beating myself up about it, because God gave me a talent that I never really used.”
The folk artist had always loved to draw, paint and create, but his passion dwindled as he focused on his living. Running a full-time fencing business proved too laborious to spare time to take up a brush or a pencil, and Ledford abandoned the hobby. So when doctors told him that he’d lose use of his right arm, he thought of all the paintings he should have done.
“I had a gift, and then, just like that, I didn’t have a way to use that gift,” Ledford said. “I should’ve been using it while I still could.”
But Ledford’s attention soon shifted elsewhere.
“I couldn’t use my arm, so that meant I couldn’t build fences like I’d been doing for 10 years, so that meant I couldn’t really work,” he said. “I went from having a job to lying around and getting kind of depressed because I didn’t have a way to take care of my daughter.”
Between the cancer and the unemployment, finances fought against Ledford, who was a single father. He eventually had to leave his house to move to a more affordable apartment.
“It got to the point where I honestly didn’t know what I was going to do,” he said.

‘God had given me another chance’
As Ledford languished beneath the burden of illness and financial turmoil, his mother, Ellen , provided encouragement.
“I’d never had any art classes growing up,” Ledford said. “My mom was my teacher. Both she and my daddy never had any art classes either, but they would take me on their lap when I was growing up, and they’d draw with me. I learned everything from them.”
Including how to be strong. Despite being gravely ill, Ellen remained positive about her son’s future.
“She was a strong, strong woman, and while most people learn how to be strong from their daddy, I learned it from my mom,” he said. “My mom always said that she’d be willing to go through whatever God put upon her if it saved one person.”
Then, unexpectedly, during a routine hospital stay, Ellen died. Devastated, Ledford felt like he had lost everything again. But as time passed, he remembered his mother’s words and decided if he could reach one person through his art, then all of his suffering would be worth it.
“Instead of listening to the docs saying I couldn’t use my arm, I pushed it and used it more and more and more,” Ledford said, “I just felt like God had given me another chance, and I was going to do my best to honor that.”

‘A huge blessing’
Now, after several treatments, including the insertion of a cadaver bone into his shoulder, Ledford works full-time at honoring his talent. He and his former English teacher, Paula Clark, opened a Lula-based antique store and art studio called The Rusty Peacock. Ledford sells his folk art at the store and at festivals and shows. He ensures each piece of art has a religious aspect to it, whether it be a hidden cross, angel, Bible or verse.
“I just have a place in my heart for folk art,” he said. “Everybody suggests that I get into the fine art, too, but I’m country, and to me, folk art is country, while fine arts, to me, is city.”
So he sticks to his roots, painting just like his parents taught him, and he believes that following this path has turned around his life. He has married, has a new home, has a way to support his family, has a way to share his passion about God and, perhaps more importantly of all, he has a way of staying close to his loved ones.
“This has just been a huge blessing,” he said. “When I paint, it’s like I still feel that bond with my mother.”