Touch Art on Pittsburgh CBS Radio Tomorrow, Sunday 9/29 at 7 a.m.!

Touch Art: Making Art with the PIttsburgh’s Blind Community is on the Radio tomorrow! Listen to an interview with myself, Kirsten Ervin, Ann Lapidus and Joyce Driben about our project!

The show is on Sunday, September 29, 2013 at 7 a.m. on the following Pittsburgh CBS stations.
KDKA-FM- 93.7 – (Sports)
WBZZ – 100.7 – (Adult Top 40)
WDSY – 107.9 – (Country)

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Beauty Inside and Out: Interview with Stephanae McCoy

A portrait of Ms. Stephanae Mc Coy

A portrait of Ms. Stephanae McCoy

Can you tell me about your experience making art? 

My situation is a little different from some of the other folks as I’ve only been legally blind for the last 4 years and 4 years prior to that is when I started to have vision problems. When I was a youngster I loved drawing and later working with my hands from embroidery, to crochet, knitting, needlepoint, latch hook rugs to papier mâché and working with clay. When I was in school I loved being assigned special projects that allowed me to use my imagination to come up with something 3-dimensional. Even when my kids were young I salivated at the opportunity to “help” them with their school projects, which I’m ashamed to admit were probably more mine than theirs. I remember helping my oldest son build a coliseum out of sugar cubes and we sprayed it with a material that gave it a stone-like quality, and if I must say so myself it was some of my finest work.

What type of art do you enjoy making now? 

I don’t so much work with my hands anymore but I occasionally design marketing materials such as flyers, posters, business cards, greeting cards, etc. anything via computer grabs my attention these days.

I am just beginning to get my feet wet with photography and video. I’ve never really been a photographer but I’m inspired to learn more about it since I’ve gotten this idea in my head for a project that could benefit blind and vision-impaired women.  I have a small easy to use camera.  Now that I have a blog and know how to upload pictures to the blog, I’m starting to take more photos with my phone and simple video camera.  I just need to find time for it in-between all my other projects.

Do you think your vision loss has positively impacted your approach to photography in any way?

I think had I not lost my vision, I would have carried on as usual – I would not have slowed down to take pictures.  I was so busy with my job I didn’t take the time to appreciate a lot of things.  Now I’m more aware of the beauty around me.

Instead of recording moments with my eyes, now I do that with my camera.

Something I’ve learned through my experience of loosing my vision – is that I felt very exposed.  I hesitated to use my cane because I didn’t want people to know I was blind, I didn’t want to be taken advantage of.   Some days I feel so raw – especially since I can see a little bit, I notice people turning heads to look at me.  But I just keep on.  Everyday I just keep on and move past people’s assumptions about me.

Bold Blind Beauty - the logo for Stephanae's blog site

Can you tell me about your idea for a photography project that could benefit blind and vision-impaired women?

The idea came to me by accident last year, I was giving a presentation to women at the PA Council for the Blind.  I was asked to give a brief talk about makeup tips.  As usual, I always do a lot of research before I give a presentation.  I knew what I personally was doing with makeup and have been doing for years, but I wanted to see what other people were doing.  My research showed there was very little information out there for people with visual impairments, nothing specific about colors or fashion choices, with the exception of www.visionaware.org. The Vision Aware website contained a blog on make-up application that was very useful for my presentation.

The assumption is that because you’re blind or visually impaired, you don’t want to put on make up or don’t care about the way you look or can’t wear makeup at all because you can’t see.  Nothing could be farther from the truth as evidenced by the attendance to the presentation, and attendees engagement on the topic.  There was so much discussion that we ran out of time and didn’t have time to answer everyone’s questions. This year I will be building on this talk by demonstrating makeup application with a representative from Mary Kay.

After the talk, I realized there was a need for this type of information and I can fill this need. My blog site, Bold Blind Beauty – will have online videos to help women feel as beautiful as they can.

Right now I can see colors, but I struggle with the shades and grades of color I have trouble distinguishing colors that are similar like oranges and reds.  This will be an interesting learning process for me and for the people following my blog.  I want the site to be for women with and with out vision impairments.  I want this to be a regular everyday make up site.  Not high fashion and big brands.  I want to get away from the idea that beauty is just outside appearance thing – For me beauty is an internal thing.  Certainly if a person feels good about themselves, and are confident, people will respond to it in a positive way.

I think that makeup doesn’t have to be so serious.  Why not have fun with it and experiment with it – figure out what makes you feel good?  Then you start to use makeup as something that makes you feel like you.

What are you looking forward to in the Touch Art class you are enrolled in? 

I’m very excited about the precious metal clay workshop.  I love jewelry.  When I heard the presentation about it I just knew I had to learn more about it.  PMC is such a new and interesting process to learn.  The teacher’s work is so inspiring and detailed, I look forward to learning as much as I can.

I like taking an idea and letting the idea explode while working with your hands – it’s really amazing.

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Continuing Our Creative Lives: An Interview with Artists Suzanne Gibson and Lynda Lambert

Painting by Suzanne Gibson

“Trombone”, painting by Suzanne Gibson

Suzanne Gibson is a painter who has owned and operated Rivers Edge Studio and Gallery in New Brighton, Pennsylvania for the past 4 years.  She began losing her sight about 6 years ago due to Stargardt disease, which has caused her to lose most of her central vision.

Lynda Lambert is an exhibiting artist and retired arts and humanities professor from Geneva College. She is a member of the Associated Artists of Pittsburgh and Group A at Pittsburgh Center for the Arts (PCA). Lynda lost most of her vision 5 years ago due to Ischemic Optic Neuropathy, a stroke-like condition.

Suzanne and Lynda are planning an upcoming exhibition of their recent work,  “Vision: REvision” which will debut March 7, 2014 at the Merrick Art Gallery in New Brighton. The show will travel to six locations over two years and be accompanied by a book explaining their stories and artistic process.

Both women sat down with me to share their stories of finding new ways to make art after vision loss, and the many positive and surprising aspects of this creative journey.

 Interview by Kirsten Ervin.

When did you start making things?

Suzanne: I made art very early on. I had very supportive parents and our house had a painting done by my great grandfather. I went to school for commercial art and gleaned any information I could about other artists and art, anything I could get my hands on. I’ve usually worked as a realist painter, in acrylics.

Lynda: As a small child I made potholders and sold them in my neighborhood, using the money I made to make more potholders! My mom taught me embroidery and I taught myself how to knit. I have both a BFA and MFA in Painting and studied with Akiko Kotani (PCA’s 2013 Artist of the Year).

I’ve always made fiber art, weaving and also made enormous paintings and giant prints from woodcuts. I was always working in a few genres at a time and having those disciplines feed each other.  I’ve always worked in a series.

Fiber art "Ilsa Butterfly Garden" beaded circles in colorful texture

“Ilsa Butterfly Garden” textile art by Lynda Lambert

Describe your visual impairment:

Suzanne: I have Stargardt Disease, which blocks my central vision. I look at things with my peripheral vision, and I’m not always sure I’m seeing things correctly.

 Lynda: I have Ischemic Optic Neuropathy, which is a stroke-like condition. I lost my eyesight almost instantly about 5 years ago. I lost the vision in my right eye and then, 10 months later, I lost the vision in my left eye. Even if I had been in a doctor’s office, there was nothing anyone could have done to save my eyesight.

How has your art changed since vision loss?

cool jazz

“Cool Jazz” painting by Suzanne Gibson

Lynda: I began with fiber art as a child and it’s come full circle. I work now almost entirely by touch. I paint with a thread and needle. I use a CCTV (Closed Circuit Television) purely for the placement of the needle, but otherwise, I work by touch.

My vision loss is the greatest blessing in my life, because it forced me to see things so much clearer – the essence of a thing, to not be distracted by how things appear.

But, I wouldn’t have chosen my vision loss and when it happened, it was stunning.

With the help I received at BVRS (Blind & Vision Rehabilitation Services of Pittsburgh), I learned there wasn’t anything I couldn’t do, other than drive. I could look at anything and figure out the tools and methods to make things work.

Suzanne: My work has become much more abstracted and I use color in a much different way to emphasize mood and depth. I had to find another way to make my art. It forced me to think about what I was painting for, “How do I get you to feel what I want you to feel?” I feel I’m now doing the best art I’ve ever done; other people say it’s the best work I’ve ever done. It has taught me a lot artistically because I have to think about the essence of something without the detail. Less is more.

I was inspired by an exhibit I saw of John Bramblitt’s artwork. He’s a totally blind artist, who paints with raised edges.  I use a CCTV, a specialized camera on a movable arm that enlarges images to place onto a large screen monitor. I work from photos and select a small portion at a time. I am learning to check myself far less and trust myself more.

Lynda with Necklace

Artist Lynda Lambert wearing one of her creations

What are your hopes for your art show, Vision/Revision?

Suzanne: We want to share our positive story, to show that life is not over. Find a way to keep doing what you love to do, just re-think it. Don’t give up and hide.

Lynda: With the right help, we were able to continue our creative lives. My goal has always been to be an exhibiting artist. It took me about five years to get back to where I was, but I got there. I’m a member of Associated Artists, of Group A. My mixed media fiber work was just juried into the upcoming exhibition “The New Collective” that will open at PCA in November. Most people don’t know I’m blind, they see my work first and respond positively.

Suzanne: As a gallery owner, people see your work, Lynda, and say how beautiful it is. When I tell them you are blind, they are astounded. Our show will say as much to people who can see as to people who can’t.

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The Preview Event

On Saturday July 14th, we had so much fun in this hands on display of the workshop materials.  Interested students came for a touch tour and conversation with the instructors and registered for the workshops that interested them the most.  Check out the pictures below for a glimpse of the event:

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Interview with Louise Chuha, Lace Maker

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Tell me about when you began making things, doing crafts:

When I was a kid, and went to Perkins School for the Blind in Massachusetts, everyone had handwork classes. We made linked leather belts and our teacher had us make various crafts like weaving a potholder. We learned how to knit in elementary school at the same time as making a knitting bag with cable cord and heavy rug yarn. We used big, fat wooden needles. When we finished the bag, our teacher put candy bars inside. In middle school, in 7th grade, girls had to have a knitting class, and boys had shop class and chair caning.

Tell me about teaching crafts to others:

When I first came to Pittsburgh in 1969 I worked at Pittsburgh Blind Association (now Blind & Vision Rehabilitation Services of Pittsburgh) as one of the Rehabilitation teachers. I eventually became the Recreation Coordinator. When PBA was on Craig Street in Oakland, we had knitting and crocheting classes, did both wheel pottery and hand building clay; we made jewelry and origami birds.

I’ve taught knitting and crocheting to people who were both blind and sighted at different locations in Pittsburgh. I taught a knitting class to new mothers at a temple in Squirrel Hill.

When did you start making bobbin lace?

In 1976, a local company offered PBA a booth at a craft expo.  My husband, who was sighted, said, “Come here, Louise, you have to see this” and brought me to a booth where two ladies were making bobbin lace. One had learned lacemaking in Sweden as a child and the other through a correspondence course. They had never taught lace making to anyone who couldn’t see, and they were skeptical about teaching me. But I insisted that I wanted to learn and took the streetcar to this woman’s house in Library, PA so she could teach me.

The three of us started the Pittsburgh Lace Society, which now has about 25 members.

We had booths at folk festivals and craft fairs in the 70s and 80s and people were amazed; there were long lines to see us. We did lace demos in various places. We even taught a lace making class at the Carnegie Museum of Art.

I taught one workshop to sighted people under blindfold called “Lace without Looking” and people told me that it was the hardest thing they ever did.

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Do you use any accommodations in making lace?

The raised dots in the lace pattern are similar to the raised dots in braille. The only difference is that I have the raised dots on both sides, whereas sighted people only use the non-raised side of the dots.

How do people react to you as a lace maker who is also blind?

Sometimes people [at craft fairs] didn’t notice I was blind and they’d say things like “you have to have really good eyes to do that” and I’d say, “not really”. Sometimes, people wouldn’t say anything and I put up a sign that read “Please say hi.”

Or they say, “Oh, is that tedious”, and it is. It’s not instant gratification, but the results are wonderful.

Why is art or craft making important for people who are blind or visually impaired?

The development of manual dexterity is important, because it helps in learning to do things gracefully and to not be clumsy out in the sighted world. If you have no vision, you have to have some other way to know what things look like.

Advice to teaching artists working with students who are blind or visually impaired:

Teachers need training on how to be verbally descriptive. Pretend you are describing something to someone over the telephone. I would also advise them to make their art form with their eyes closed.

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A Hands-on Preview Day

This is a picture of the PCA building

The Pittsburgh Center for the Arts is located at the corner of 5th and Shady avenue

We are excited to share hands-on information about the Touch Art workshops on Saturday July 13th 1-3pm at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts.  Each of the workshop instructors will be present to talk about their class and show examples of the type of art that will be made during their class.

You will have the opportunity to sign up for a workshop during this preview event and have all your questions answered! No need to rsvp – it will be a casual open house setting.  Please email us for any accommodation needs you may have with transportation and/or a sighted guide.

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