Awesome Men Throughout History: Dan Keplinger

Artist and motivational speaker r totally deserves to be an Awesome Man Throughout History, and not just because he’s from Baltimore. His cultural footprint is larger than most of the local-to-me weirdos I’ve talked about here, and he’s honestly one of the most hardcore dudes you’re ever likely to meet. There are a lot of inspirational speakers out there, but Dan is one of the few who is genuinely inspiring.

Dan has cerebral palsy, and attended special schools until high school, when he transitioned to Parkville High. A bold move, but Dan makes a lot of those. He was frustrated by special education, and felt that people didn’t understand how intelligent he really was, despite his condition.

Dan made it through high school (despite people telling his parents that such a thing would be impossible) and has two college degrees, both from Towson University. The second one is an art degree, and Dan’s artistic accomplishments were a primary focus of King Gimp, the Oscar-winning documentary about him and his journey towards independent living.

Dan’s paintings are modern, which isn’t to everyone’s taste, but a lot of them are really good. He paints big, with lots of bold colors and rough brush strokes, and his self-portraits reveal a keen eye for likenesses.

All this is even more impressive when you know his technique. Because he can’t really control the muscles in his arms, Dan attaches paintbrushes to his head with special headgear and paints that way. He holds pencils in that same headgear to type. Both actions take hours to complete and are physically exhausting, but Dan doesn’t let that stop him from creating. He might be the most determined person on this planet.

It’s also the case, as Dan has explained, that he doesn’t have many other ways of communicating his emotions, so being able to paint is essential to his life. There’s an urgency to his work that other artists simply can’t match because, for all their other trials and tribulations, they don’t need it as much as Dan does.

I was the projectionist for a screening of King Gimp when I was in grad school, so I’ve met Dan and seen his work, which hung in a nearby gallery for a month or so. At the screening, I watched him and his wife (then his fiancee) slow dance to a song from The Sound of Music. It was one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen, to be honest, but there was an undeniable tenderness there.

Guys like Dan are a rare breed; they stay on their grind with an intense focus and dedication, and they remind us all that sometimes stuff just sucks, and all you can do is nut up and work through it as best you can. And in Dan’s case, they produce really important (and good) art with their efforts. I’ll leave you with this clip of Dan explaining more about how art impacts his life.

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About Dave Kiefaber Dave Kiefaber is a Baltimore-based writer who regularly contributes to Adfreak and the Gettysburg Times. His personal website is at

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