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[VIDEO] Community offers support after Warrenton artist’s injury jeopardizes ability to create

Thursday, Jun. 19 | By Hannah Dellinger
From left to right: Joshua Whipkey, Nicole Brugnoli Whipkey, Finnegan Whipkey (2) and their dog Rupert together in their home.
Fauquier Times Staff Photo/ Randy Litzinger
Joshua Whipkey relies on his hands for creating his artwork and supporting his family financially with his woodwork. But an accident with a table saw upended the way he looks at his life and livelihood.

On Memorial Day, while working at his home shop on some furniture for a client, despite years of experience and safety precautions, he got distracted and accidentally cut into his right hand. He lost his pinky and ring finger. Surgeons were able to save his middle finger.

“In the moments following the accident I was pretty worried. I remember one of the first questions that I asked somebody was, ‘Will I be able to draw?’” Whipkey said.

He said that he didn’t want to look down at his hand because it hurt so much, but he was concerned that he lost his index finger and thumb. He remembers people around him telling him that the index finger and thumb were intact, He felt relief that he would still be able to create his artwork.

“I’ve been working with power tools since I was pretty young,” he said. “As a professional, we are always safety conscious. When you’ve got so much experience and you’re so comfortable with the tools, you just really don’t ever expect this sort of thing to happen.”

Doctors told Whipkey that with a lot of rehabilitation, his remaining three fingers should be fully functional once again.

Although Whipkey expect he'll recover, he now has to contend with medical expenses.

“We are going to have mounting hospital bills,” said Joshua’s wife, Nicole Brugnoli Whipkey. “Our insurance deductibles are very high and we’ve been renovating this house for two years, so that’s part of it as well.”

Nicole said that the family will also have to lose weeks of income while Whipkey recovers and searches for a new means of income.

“There is the fear that he may not be able to work with these tools again, that he might have to change careers, we just don’t know what’s possible and what’s needed right now,” she said.

The Whipkey’s neighbors, Mike and Pat Atkins, were concerned about the young couple and their two-year-old son, Finnegan. They asked the young family if they could host a benefit event to raise money for their medical bills.

“[The Atkins family has] a huge network of friends in the community,” said Nicole. “They’ve been here for over 20 years. We’ve only been here for two years. So our network is much, much smaller than theirs is and they just immediately reached out to the community of support that they have.”

The Atkins family will host the benefit tomorrow, June 21 at the Atkins’ home at 8262 Lees Ridge Road in Warrenton. The tickets cost $25 each and the event will feature musical entertainment from the Rock Docs, catering and a showcase of Nicole’s portraiture.

Nicole said that she and her husband were blown away by the show of support from the community.

“We are overwhelmed with gratitude,” she said. “We never in a million years expected this kind of support from neighbors, the community, family and friends. We’ve had a tremendous outpouring of love and support and the waves just keep coming.”

She said that within 36 hours of the accident, her family was completely enveloped and surrounded with love and support.

“We’ve just felt very nurtured and supported the entire time. It’s over whelming in the most beautiful way,” she said.

Whipkey said that he is also grateful for the support, especially from his wife, who has stuck by his side through out the entire ordeal.

Art has been the common denominator in their relationship since the beginning. The two met in a college professor’s office by chance. After the professor invited Joshua to look at Nicole’s work, it was clear that the two had a future together.

“I just knew the day that I met him that I was gonna marry him,” said Nicole.

They began dating and once Nicole was done with her undergrad, they both moved to Ohio while she attended graduate school at Ohio State University.

The couple moved to Warrenton after Nicole received her master's degree in Fine Arts so Whipkey could work with his brother creating custom cabinets.

Up until the accident Whipkey was working in the same field at Custom Commercial Millwork.

Nicole teaches drawing, painting and design at George Mason University and is the assistant graduate programs coordinator. She paints commissioned portraits and also creates abstract and nonobjective works.

Whipkey dabbles in many media, especially painting and drawing. He also enjoys photography and graphic arts.

“Since I hurt my hand I’ve been [going back to abstract art,]” he said. “Since I’ve only got my left hand to use right now, I’ve been doing a couple of small abstract paintings. It’s just a little bit easier to not have to have that kind of control you need to do portraits and landscapes.”

Whipkey said that while he is still unsure of what kind of path his career will take next, he is certain that he will continue to create.

“I’m not sure what the future’s gonna bring,” he said. “I definitely will not give up wood working, especially with hand tools. I’m not necessarily afraid of the machines, I’m just not sure that I’m gonna go back into that line of work.”

Nicole said that the family is moving forward and not dwelling on tragedy of the accident.

“We are just trying to remain present and in the moment and to stay positive,” she said. “The only thing that I know how to say at this point in time is thank you to everybody who has been extraordinary in their love and support for us.”

Whipkey has begun to look at the experience as a positive, because of all of the connections that he has made in the aftermath.

“In retrospect it could have been worse,” he said. “It was a painful, very frightening experience, but with all of the people that have been around me, it’s turned into just an amazing positive experience.”

To purchase tickets to the benefit or to make a donation, visit: whipkey.eventbrite.com

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