Rosie Moriarty-Simmonds painting 'The Sun Beyond the Waves’
© Rosie Moriarty-Simmonds

The artist and lifelong disability rights campaigner featured in a portrait at The Senedd

Meet the Cardiff woman who has dedicated her life to promoting the rights and equality of Disabled People

THE Senedd is marking the International Day of Disabled People with an art exhibition of Ted Harrison’s portrait of Rosaleen (Rosie) Moriarty-Simmonds and her own painting The Sun Beyond the Waves. 

The exhibition is already open and will run until December 21 and then the portrait will be added to the national portrait collection at the National Library of Wales. 

The artwork is on display in the main lobby next to the steps that lead to the café. 

Rosie Moriarty-Simmonds, 62, was born and raised in Roath, Cardiff, and was awarded an OBE by the Queen for her work in campaigning for the rights and equality of Disabled People in 2015. 

She is an award-winning mouth painting artist who uses watercolour, acrylic, ink, and oil paints to create vibrant and colourful artwork. Rosie was born without arms and legs because her mother was prescribed Thalidomide during her pregnancy. 

She received a three-year scholarship to become a student member of the Mouth and Foot Painting Artists partnership which is a cooperative that pays artists a monthly retainer to paint a set number of artworks. 

The Mouth and Foot Painting Artists group has 800 artists across the world with 28 in the United Kingdom. Rosie is the only one in Wales. 

She was also appointed High Sheriff of South Glamorgan for the year of 2022 to 2023 and has attended around 200 events while in the role.  

The portrait

It was during her time as High Sheriff for South Glamorgan when the artist Ted Harrison, of Aberystwyth, saw Rosie on television. She was wearing her blue uniform in order to take part in ceremonies at Cardiff Castle following the death of the Queen.

Ted Harrison, of Aberystwyth, said: “I have painted a number of portraits of outstanding people living in Wales which are now in the National Library collection. 

“I immediately thought she could be a great subject for a portrait and looked her up online. I found out what an extraordinary person she is. I got in touch and asked if I might meet and paint a portrait. 

“I very much like the way it is being shown next to an example of her own work – in which she uses shape, movement and colour so effectively.” 

In the pink background of the painting, you can find the chemical diagram for thalidomide in faint white lines.

Image: Portrait of Rosaleen (Rosie) Moriarty-Simmonds OBE by Ted Harrison. © Ted Harrison

For more information about the exhibition at The Senedd click here.

The woman in the portrait

Rosie Moriarty-Simmonds has achieved so much in her life, including leading the campaign for the creation of the Thalidomide Memorial in Alexandra Gardens, Cathays, Cardiff.

When asked what she would say to her younger self, she said: “Have more confidence, that takes a lot of work, and it’s something you have to work hard on, but everything is going to be okay.  

“You are going to get a good education, you are going to get a good job, you are going to be successful, and you are going to grow up to do good things.” 

She was born and raised in Cardiff but spent much of her early life in hospitals in London. After attending boarding school from the age of 14 she studied at a college for disabled people for two years before returning to Cardiff.

She was the first wheelchair user to be accepted onto her course by her college when she studied her psychology degree at Cardiff University. 

In 1985, she graduated from Cardiff University with a degree in psychology and received an Honorary Fellowship in 2017.

Image: Rosie Moriarty-Simmonds at her graduation in 1985. ©Rosie Moriarty-Simmonds

She became an executive officer in the Civil Service for seven years and established RMS Disability Issues Consultancy in 1995. 

In 2007, she was the first Thalidomide-impaired person to write their own autobiography, Four Fingers and Thirteen Toes, which included a factual history of the Thalidomide drug from its early manufacturing in Nazi Germany.

The writer of the Call The Midwife episodes on Thalidomide, Heidi Thomas, read her book and reached out to her.

In one of the episodes, Rosie wrote the letter to the Thalidomide baby Susan from the future Susan looking back on her life.  

She has made many media appearances on TV and radio.

Her appointment as High Sheriff for South Glamorgan finished in April, giving her more time to work on her art.

See below one of her paintings, ‘Hazy Shade of Winter’.

Image: Rosie Moriarty-Simmond’s painting ‘Hazy shade of Winter’. ©Rosie Moriarty-Simmonds

She is currently working on a project of portraits of Welsh celebrities or iconic links to Wales and has already completed five portraits of people including Michael Ball, Michael Sheen and Louis Rees-Zammit.  

The date of her upcoming exhibition of the portraits is yet to be confirmed but it may take place near the end of 2024 or in 2025. 

Find a link to where you can buy her book here.