Thursday, May 2, 2013

A Feel for Art

On a recent morning I visited the Vermont Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired. I attend their Peer Assisted Learning and Support (PALS) group in South Burlington a couple of times per year to talk about our Art at Hand tours and encourage their participants to visit Shelburne Museum. I always bring a hands-on art project based on the Museum's collections.
This most recent craft was inspired by the Stencil House. I have been been studying Stencil in preparation for our new gallery talk, Exploring Colonial Revival: Prentis and Stencil Houses, which debuts when the Museum opens to the public on May 12th. Wall stencils, painted by itinerant artists who traveled from town to town and worked on commission, were popular decorative features in American homes from approximately 1815 to 1840. Much of the painting in the Stencil House parlor is original, having been stenciled in the 1830s and cleaned in an extensive 1999-2000 conservation project.

Stencil House Parlor, Photograph by J. David Bohl
Stencil House Fireplace, Photograph by J. David Bohl
After introducing the house and describing in detail the stenciling above the fireplace in the parlor (see above), I oriented the PALS group to their art materials. Chalk pastels, which feel dry and powdery, are easy to blend. Oil pastels are waxy, like crayons. The pastel paper we drew on had some texture to hold the pigment. I also brought a variety of stencils in different shapes; animal, vegetable, mineral, we had it all.
Most of the folks who attend the PALS group have age-related vision impairments, such as macular degeneration or cataracts. They are not totally blind, and for the most part they do have a sense of light and color. Even so, the creative process is challenging. One participant, Jerry, said that though he'd never tried drawing, "recently I've been trying a lot of new things I've never done." Historically, people who are blind or visually impaired have felt alienated by the art world. We at Shelburne Museum are excited to play a small part in turning those perceptions around.

Click here to learn more about our tours for special audiences or to register for Art at Hand.

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