Sunday, February 06, 2000

Exhibit links art, blindness

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        For nearly three decades, Scott Nelson has been fascinated with visual perception. Did Claude Monet's cataracts stimulate his use of color? Did Vincent Van Gogh's glaucoma influence his art? He contends there is more to vision that meets the eye.

        A professional sculptor who has Usher's syndrome, a condition causing sight and hearing loss, Mr. Nelson, 52, began creating pieces that could communicate how he perceives visual objects when he was 25 years old.

  • What: ART OF THE EYE: An Exhibition on Vision.
  • When: 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday, noon-4 p.m. next Sunday, during Fine Arts Fund Sampler Weekend. Noon-2 p.m. weekdays, Feb. 14-March 3.
  • Where: Cincinnati Association for the Blind, 2045 Gilbert Ave.
  • Admission: Free.
  • Information: 221-8558.
  • There's more: Open house noon-4 p.m. March 5. Scott Nelson will speak on visual perceptions of the artists represented 1-1:30 p.m. Also tours of the new facility, live broadcasts of Radio Reading Services, and demonstrations of rehabilitation programs available to visually impaired people.
        Research led Mr. Nelson, who lives in Minneapolis, to dozens of artists in history — painters, sculptors, poets and writers — who, he believes, often created great art because of impaired vision.

        He then issued a call to artists with visual impairments. He was looking for art that communicated some fascinating truths about the visual process. The result is ART OF THE EYE: An Exhibition on Vision, which will be on view at the Cincinnati Association for the Blind from Saturday through March 5.

        South Bend, Ind., artist Mary Solbrig says that losing vision taught her new ways to see.

        “Anything you've done in your life,” she explains, “you will still be able to do, whether you can see it or not. Your brain remembers.”

Touch the art
        The exhibit is a collection of 52 pieces created by 24 American artists with visual impairments. Touring the country since 1986, this is its first stop in Cincinnati. It coincides with the agency's celebration of a $3.5 million renovation project.

        ART OF THE EYE includes water colors, pastels, sculpture, ceramics and photography. It was created by artists with glaucoma, retinitis pigmentosa, cataracts, macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, myopia, and color blindness.

        All art in the exhibit may be touched.

        Criteria for inclusion in the exhibit, Mr. Nelson says, was not only the museum quality of the art, but its ability to communicate something about how the artist “sees” while in the creative process.

Seeing only silhouettes
        Mrs. Solbrig was nearly 60 when she lost sight in one eye. She decided that the best way to gain perspective with diminishing vision was to go back to college as an art major. Her watercolor “Our Home,” is part of the exhibit.

        Although she says she can't see her own face in the mirror, Mrs. Solbrig's paintings have been exhibited across the country and sold for hefty prices. Her watercolor “Gladiolus” was purchased by CBS-TV personality Charles Osgood, she says.

        Seeing only silhouettes, Mrs. Solbrig says she uses mixed media, drawing backgrounds with charcoals, mixing various media with water colors and oil pastels as her visual perception dictates.

        “We are bringing the exhibit here,” says Jane McGraw, director of community relations for the association, “partly as our gift back to the community, and partly to raise awareness of what blind artists can do.

        “Art and blindness are no typically connected in most people's minds. This remarkable exhibit encourages all of us to stretch those perceptions.”

        Cincinnati writer Deborah Kendrick is a nationally recognized advocate for people with disabilities. Write her at The Cincinnati Enquirer, Tempo, 312 Elm St., Cincinnati 45202;


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