Association of Mouth and Foot Painting Artists of the World
The Association of Mouth and Foot Painting Artists of the World (AMFPA) was founded as the Vereinigung der Mund- und Fussmalenden Künstler in aller Welt, e. V. (VDMFK), in Liechtenstein in 1956. It is a commercial group of publishing houses that employs artists, who, for reasons of illness, accident or congenital disability have no use of their hands, and who use either their mouth or feet to create their work.
The main product of the company is Christmas cards with motifs painted by the member artists. These cards are sold every year in the months leading up to Christmas via direct mailing in 46 countries around the world (2004). Other products available through AMFPA include postcards, art prints and calendars.
The parent company in Liechtenstein acquires the reproduction rights of a given artwork and distributes it internationally. The original works are also sold at exhibitions held throughout the world.
The AMFPA represents 800 mouth and foot painting artists in around 70 countries around the world. They receive grants or are taken on as members and receive a regular income for their artistic proficiency. Works produced by the members can be seen in the UN Headquarters in Geneva or the European Council in Strasbourg.
A. Erich Stegmann
The first president of the association - Arnulf Erich Stegmann - was a prominent figure in the development of Mouth and Foot Painting. Born in 1912 in Darmstadt, Germany, Stegmann lost the use of both arms from polio at the age of two. Regardless, his artistic talents were soon recognized and supported by his teachers. He was proficient with a variety of brushes and styles, using only his mouth.
He was educated at the School of Higher Education for Book Trade and Graphics in Nuremberg and studied with the artists Erwin von Kormöndy and Hans Gerstacker. He made a living selling his art cards and prints at marketplaces. After the Second World War Stegmann established his own publishing company with the poignant name "Dennoch" ("Anyway").
In 1953/54 he organized the group "Lodge of Mouth and Foot Painting Artists" as a type of artist community. From there, the international "Association of Mouth and Foot Painting Artists" was formed and A. E. Stegmann was voted president for life.
The AMFPA has in later years been the subject of several exposés in German, French, Swiss, Swedish, Norwegian, Polish, British, Canadian and Danish media, suggesting unethical behaviour within the organization. The coverage has spurred criticism from charity, consumer and handicap organizations. The criticism includes:
- That AMFPA effectively poses as a charity organization although it is purely a commercial venture, in effect conning charitable people out of money.
- That only a fraction of the surplus is paid out to the handicapped artists, since only 94 (2008) of them are fully employed by the company, which in turn allegedly turns a world wide profit in the hundreds of millions US$. The precise world wide profit is confidential.
- That high salaries, favourable loans and property lease contracts are given to AMFPAs long-time legal adviser Herbert Batliner, his friends and family and other lawyers employed at the AMFPA. Recently retired Batliner is himself a controversy, being previously accused of money laundering for Colombian drug barons and for his alleged involvement in the 1999 German CDU contribution scandal.
- That funds are being diverted to unknown parties via a network of "mailbox" companies.
- The use of high pressure sales tactics by sending its main sales item, Christmas card packages to consumers via unsolicited direct mail with an option to pay afterwards.
- The secrecy maintained by the company.
No claims have been made suggesting any illegal activity by AMFPA. The criticism has been centered on what is perceived as bad ethics.
AMFPAs responds to the criticism
The AMFPA has in some news reports and court hearings responded to some of the claims, stating that AMFPA has never intentionally presented itself as a charitable organization, but instead has explicitly pointed its commercial nature out to consumers. AMFPA has also stated that 80% of the world wide profits are distributed among the artist. AMFPA declined to present financial records to support this claim.
In June 2007 the company sued Danish Broadcasting Corporation and Danish daily Ekstra Bladet for libel after negative coverage during December 2005. On October 10, 2008 the High Court of Eastern Denmark ruled in favor of the accused journalists, stating that there was sufficient factual basis for statements like: "Behind the scenes we found a well-oiled money making machine with economic puppeteers, who are scraping in money with arms and legs", "People think they are supporting a charity, but in reality we are looking at a money making machine" and "...only a measly 3% is going to the mouth and foot painting artists". AMFPA has not appealed the decision.
- Helmut Lorscheid: Alle Jahre wieder... . Telepolis, 24. December 2004 (German)
- An Postkarten von Mund- und Fussmalern verdient vor allem ein Lichtensteiner Wirtschaftsunternehmen. Stern, 22. December 2000 (German)
- Hyggeligt salgsbrev snyder DBC, 6. December 2005 (Danish)
- Hjertet på rette sted, men pengene ..., TV2, 28. November 2004 (Danish)
- Jagt paa millioner, DBC, 6. December 2005 (Danish)
- Mundmaler und Hilfsorganisationen - Wer steckt dahinter? MDR, 30. november 2004 (German)
- "It is a Spider Web" Center for Public Integrity, 8. November 1999
- Colorado district court ruling, 29. October 1998
- Danish press ethics council ruling, 14. June 2006 (Danish)
- DR vandt sag om ytringsfrihedens grænser AVM, 10. October 2008 (Danish)