Vision-impaired art lovers get chance to 'see' SculptureNow works at The Mount

Mount Everett students and visually impaired members of the Berkshire Benevolent Association for The Blind on Thursday tour a sculpture at the Mount together in Lenox.

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Exploring sculpture at the Mount

Video | Mount Everett students lead vision impaired Berkshire Benevolent Association members on a sculpture tour of The Mount

LENOX — A group of teenagers, vision-impaired adults, artists and volunteers came together on Thursday to chisel away stereotypes about disability.

Ten students were invited to help other volunteers usher four adults from Berkshire County Arc and Berkshire Benevolent Association for The Blind, to "see" selected works from the SculptureNow exhibit currently on display outdoors throughout the campus of The Mount.

"They'll be seeing in a different way," SculptureNow Director Ann Jon told the students, juniors and seniors in Kevin Wolgemuth's honors psychology class at Mount Everett Regional High School.

"What I'm hoping is that we're all going to learn from each other in an experimental way," Jon said.

Both she and Wolgemuth have in their travels been prompted to ponder how art can be created and appreciated in multisensory ways. Jon recalled once meeting a young man who is blind while she was sculpting Carrara marble in Italy. He wanted to learn to sculpt marble too, through touch.

"I remember thinking, if he can travel to Europe by himself, he could carve marble. And he did, quite well," Jon said.

For Wolgemuth it was the experience of once smelling on a humid day the paint from an original Van Gogh canvas, which, he imagined, might be the same thing the artist smelled when he originally crafted his work.

Together, the sculptor and the teacher have collaborated for the past three years on teaching students about sculpture through touch, smell and sound. This year marks the first collaboration with organizations serving people who have blindness or visual impairments.

"I encourage you to touch the steel, stone and wood in the sculptures we see today," Jon said.

Off they went, first arriving at a Bernard Klevickas' metal sculpture, "Untitled (red assembly)," which is comprised of 15 curving metal squares and steel embellishments, anchored about 10 feet high by a pole.

But how to describe the varying shades of red? And the size? And shape? What response does it evoke?

This is what the students had to convey to the visitors who physically couldn't see parts of or the whole piece.

Mt. Everett senior Graham Collopy recalled a classroom activity, during which students created a table with different colors and had to brainstorm with each other about words they could use to describe a color.

"So with a red color, we described it as having heat or fire or warmth," Collopy said.

Still not an easy lesson or matter to convey.

"Sometimes we take for granted what we have," said Collopy, "But doing these kinds of hands-on experiences are the best ways to learn."

"It's a whole new experience," said Phil Shallies, whose sight is affected by retinitis pigmentosa. "You have to have a good imagination ... to be able to formulate [what something looks like] in your mind," he said.

Junior Aaron Brown said he was nervous at first to guide someone — in this case, a man named Rosario Valenti, who has limited vision — around the meandering terrain of The Mount.

"At first it was difficult, but then it just got easier," he said. Brown stood by Valenti's side, ready to offer an arm in addition to Valenti's walking cane.

"He did pretty good," said Valenti of the young man, who helped him step over stones and patches of hill peppered with acorns.

"The energy was very comfortable," said Ginger Weber, another woman with blindness on the tour. "It felt very warm and friendly, which is really appreciated by people who are blind."

Mary Beth Galok-Galliher, president of Berkshire Benevolent Association for The Blind, said this was the first outing of its kind for the group.

"The kids did a wonderful job," she said, noting that she'd like to visit their classroom to teach them more about what causes blindness and what kinds of things people are capable of doing, despite a lack of vision.

"We'd like to do more. We'd like the awareness," Galok-Galliher said.

Tonya Harrison, the organization's secretary, and also Galok-Galliher's niece, said, "I hope the kids see how amazing these people are, and that if they are out and they see someone struggling, there is a reason, and that they can ask if someone needs a helping hand."

The Berkshire Benevolent Association for The Blind meets at 7:30 p.m., on the first Monday of each month at the Dalton VFW, 366 East Housatonic St., in Dalton.