Touch tours bring art to the visually impaired

April 2, 2016
Cecilia Mazanec
photographer: Cecilia Mazanec
accessibility, art, harn

Gyula L. Szilagyi walked through the Harn Museum of Art, stopping in front of works made by local and University of Florida artists. But unlike other visitors, he wasn’t looking at the art. Szilagyi has been blind for 42 years.

On March 12, the museum hosted “Access Art: Touch Tours,” the second annual event that provided visitors with or without visual impairments to experience art through senses other than sight.

Twenty artists displayed touchable works, describing them to visitors who approached their tables.

Artists sitting behind tables at the Harn Museum of Art show their touchable artwork to visually impaired visitors.

Standing next to a volunteer guide, Szilagyi slowly moved his hands across the displays.

He grinned as his fingers followed intersecting threads to the center of a mixed-media piece by UF student Karli Mogen.

Szilagyi has been to the event before and said he loved the way the art makes him feel. He also liked it, he said, when artists asked him what he thought their pieces depicted.

“Each artist is special, and each has a story to tell,” he said.

In the second component of the event, guides led tours of four pieces of art in the Harn’s “Framing Nature” exhibition in the center of the museum. A table near each piece held a touchable replica of the artwork created by Kimberly Crowell, a UF museum studies graduate student and Harn intern.

A photo of a beach scene and a tactile reproduction of the photo using sandpaper and cotton

In her version of a beach scene by Massimo Vitali, she used sandpaper to give the texture of sand. She painted raised dots on the horizon line to feel like people in the distance.

Visitors could call a number on their cellphone to hear a verbal description of each work. Reginald Howard listened to the description of a Japanese wood block print called Wisteria at Kameido by Kobayashi Kiyochika. After feeling the replica, a guide walked with him to the original work where the pair stood in silence.

He came to the event last year, he said, but this year, it was even better.

“If I had a chance to do this every day,” Howard said, “I would.”

Gator Good

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