Enter any museum or art gallery and you’re sure to be met with signs frustratingly telling you “NO TOUCHING.” Even though you’re itching to run our fingers over the smooth bronze statues, the ripples of paint, and cold glass, you begrudgingly back off and keep your hands off the artwork. But these artists are encouraging us not to!
When a smile spread over a blind man’s face as he interacted with his art one day, artist Andrew Myers’ was struck with an idea. In a world where we aren’t allowed to touch the art, where does that leave people with limited eyesight?
This thought stayed at the top of artist Andrew Myers’ mind. So with thousands of screws, a bit of paint, and a mission to give someone the first portrait of themselves that they could actually see, he entered a world of art you won’t find in most museums…yet!
Here’s what he created:
So… what’s happening there?
The man with the impressive beard in this portrait is none other than George Wurtzel. He gradually lost his eyesight when he was a teenager and has been a woodworker most of his life—opening his first shop right after he left high school!
By using his sense of smell to identify types of wood, running his hands over the grain, and listening to the sound of the wood transforming he works, he’s able to create stunning pieces out of wood all without the use of his eyesight. (He even created a to-scale wooden model piano for Stevie Wonder when they attended the Michigan School for the Blind together.) 1
Now, he’s spending his time helping others with sight limitations learn the art of woodworking at the Enchanted Hills Camp in Napa, California; a summer camp specifically for the visually impaired.
So, when our artist Andrew Myers—a sculptor with a knack for creating pieces out of unusual items—heard about George and the tactile art gallery he was working to put together, Andrew knew who he wanted to create one of his screw portraits for. (Yes, screws.)
This fantastic film, Please Touch The Art directed by Ace Norton shows us this journey and the impact the resulting portrait had on George when he got his hands on it. Take a look!
Enchanted Hills, the camp where George works, is a part of LightHouse, an organization that’s been around for 114 years to promote the independence, equality, and self-reliance of people who are blind or have low vision. You can find out how to support them by following this link.
You can learn more about George and his process as a woodworker in this article from The Star Tribune!
How would you like to go to a gallery where you’re encouraged to touch everything?
Would that change your experience with art? How many of us would be able to connect more with the work if we were able to interact with it in a more tangible way?
Thankfully, people are creating opportunities for this kind of connection all over the place these days. A simple Google search of “tactile art galleries” brought me pages upon pages of work and collections that give visitors the opportunity to experience art in ways beyond our visual senses. In fact, there are even some that have us go through the exhibit using only our sense of touch; taking away the light and leaving us to feel our way through the textures in the dark.
Tactile art increases experiences for everyone, not just those with visual impairments.
Now, don’t tell me there hasn’t been a time in your life where you desperately wanted to touch something that you couldn’t—whether it was that button you were so sharply told not to press, the dog you passed by that you wanted to pet, a delicate figurine, or the nose of a bronze statue in the local courthouse.
Since the day we’re born, we’re all figuring out the world through touch. We got our hands on whatever we could, grabbing our mother’s hair and putting blocks (and everything else) in our mouths. Textures add so much to our experience in this world, and creating spaces that celebrate this sense is a gift to everyone.
When we can use the unique experiences of all kinds of people to shape the way we design our world, the more joy, awe, and ease we all experience.
Like in these stories, for example:
Have you been to a tactile art gallery? Tell us about your experience!
Stay open to new possibilities!
“No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” — Albert Einstein
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- Tillotson, Kristin. “Woodworker’s Magic Touch: ‘You Learn to See with Your Hands.’” Star Tribune, Star Tribune, 21 June 2014, www.startribune.com/woodworker-s-magic-touch-you-learn-to-see-with-your-hands/263977471/. Accessed 17 Mar. 2020. ↩
- Ace Norton. “PLEASE TOUCH THE ART.” Vimeo, 17 Mar. 2020, vimeo.com/167900271. Accessed 17 Mar. 2020. ↩
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