Young artists may be blind, but have the touch
By Simone Johnson
Some people see with their eyes. Others? Through their fingertips.
Lavelle School for the Blind students used fur, Velcro, empty prescription bottles, sand and strainers to create their works. Art teacher Jessica Jones says that when it comes to art, there is no one way or medium to make it happen. Visual impairment and blindness does not hinder but enhance the imagination and creativity. And all of that was at display at the school’s Vision of Art exhibit.
“There is a lot of texture in their artwork,” said Jones, who has worked at the school for the past 12 years. “The pieces can be moved around and picked up, and some of my little guys that are between the ages of five and seven have created sculptures that can be put together.”
Janicesa Rodriguez created a sculpture of her baby cousin made out of duct tape, a paint roller, an empty Fabuloso bottle and a thermos. To someone with vision, it may be difficult to grasp the resemblance. But as the fourth-grader felt her sculpture, Rodriguez saw her family through her own artistic vision.
The two main components of Jones’ art classes are inclusivity and accessibility. She encourages her students to use both. Jones lost her sight 16 years ago to diabetes, and after that, her artistic vision began to shift.
“I was all about the visual prior to losing my sight,” Jones said. “I am much more of a tactful artist now, and I teach all of my students that they must make all of their art as accessible as possible. I tell my students with blurred vision that the one thing they cannot put into the art show is simple art.”
“Simple art” meaning just putting color to canvas. Angel Rodriguez is a recent graduate of the school and proved to be quite the celebrity as other students yelled his name from across the room. When he attended, he chose to submit a portrait for the exhibit.
“It was made out of materials that made a microphone and a keyboard,” Rodriguez said leaning on his support cane. “It was a portrait of Brother Nathan.”
Brother Nathan, by the way, is a youth leader in Rodriguez’s life whom he admires. He named the sculpture after him, “Brother Nathan, a Youth Leader and a Friend of God.“
The portrait doesn’t have typical facial features, but instead was made in the image of how Rodriguez saw him.
Lavelle, located on Paulding Avenue near Williamsbridge, is made up of three programs, including preschool and early childhood, life skills, and the Readiness Education Academics Careers Habilitation program, or REACH.
Life skills caters to students between 6 and 21 who may need assistance eating, using the bathroom, or communicating. REACH is for students who are less visually impaired and have more mild disabilities.
When it comes to crafting their art, the students take their time getting it to where they want it to be. Justin Solis, for example, took two months to complete “Chicken Nugget Jungle,” a piece resembling a tropical forest. It includes shredded paper, lion and antelope figurines, and bright lime green paper.
The seventh-grader used the phrase “chicken nugget” in the title because lions sometimes perceive antelopes as such.
Art did not always exist at Lavelle. It wasn’t until Jones arrived that she brought an art program with her.
“I have always been amazed of the way in which students figure out their own needs of adaption,” Jones said. “And very early on I was impressed in what they were producing.”
The exhibit gave the students a chance to reach out to the community.
“A lot of them have a difficult time because of people teasing and being afraid of them because they are different,” Jones said. “So this is just an opportunity to say, ‘Hey, we are really good at this and we want you to check it out.’
“‘We want to share with you our vision.’”
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