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The Georgia Bulletin - The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta
Print Issue: November 25, 1993

'Touchables' Makes Art Accessible
By Paula Day

His fingertips tell the wondering boy something eyes could never reveal about the bronze figure poised in motionless dance. And no security guard steps in to rescue the sculpture from potential damage.

"Touchables 1993" at the Georgia Tech Westbrook Gallery makes three-dimensional art accessible to the visually and physically handicapped with no railing, glass or guards to interfere. The 37-piece exhibit is the brainchild of curator and artist Barbara Rheingrover.

Working late in her studio one night seven years ago, she turned off the lights in order to feel the flaws and dips in the piece she was sculpting. She knew her touch was more accurate than her sight in detecting defects. With eyes closed she wondered what it would be like to be visually impaired and not able to experience art. Realizing her tactile sense was a special way of enjoying the textured form of her work, she began to dream of a touchable art show.

Not one to waste time, she mounted the first "Touchables" within 12 months. Now in its sixth year, the show displays works in fiber, marble, bronze and other metals, wood and paper, by international artists.

Recently 11 visually impaired and physically handicapped youngsters and their teachers from Laurel Ridge School in Decatur visited the gallery. Using touch, the children negotiated their way among the pieces, discovering the smooth and rough, filmy, flimsy and hairy, cold, sharp and moveable in the various sculptures and wall hangings.

A favorite was an unanchored half dome, "Il Duomo." Goldleaf lining notwithstanding, the youngsters interacted with the piece, taking turns sitting in its cup-like embrace. It was the fourth year teacher Elizabeth Phipps has brought a group to see the exhibit, which has grown annually in prestige and pieces displayed, according to Mrs. Rheingrover.

Later, seated on the floor in front of the exhibit, the youthful critics talked about their favorite pieces.

"It was kinda neat when I saw it," one said. Another explained, "It has texture, and springs, and it turns. You can go all the way around it." The piece, "Forms of Fun II" by Georgia artist Eric Strauss, is a vertical cylindrical mobile of carbon steel and stainless steel that can be manipulated on a turntable.

Mrs. Rheingrover is a working artist whose first love is marble and alabaster, although she has created in other media. She teaches a 10-week sculpture course at Georgia Tech and spends at least six months preparing for the exhibit. The curator dreams of the day when Atlanta's High Museum of Art or another facility will take over the exhibit and make it available throughout the year. "It's a knockout show of professional artist who support themselves though their work," she said. "It's the only show of its kind." Twenty percent of proceeds from any sale goes to the Center for the Visually Impaired in Atlanta. The artist receives the rest. The university insures the pieces while they are on campus.

Artists from Germany and Italy bring an international flavor to the exhibit. This year it also includes works by artists from such diverse states as Connecticut and Maryland, Nebraska, New Mexico and California, nine in all. Beside each piece a mounted Braille explanation and recorded message from the artist tells something of his life and work.

Of special interest to the visiting children was a piece by New Mexican artist Michael Narajo. A Native American, Narajo was blinded by gunshot while serving in Vietnam. His bronze "Spirits Soaring" catches the swoop and sweep of a native dancer in eagle feather and wings. The piece is eyeless. Mrs. Rheingrover told the visitors that while Narajo was in Rome, the pope arranged for his visit to Florence and a special touching of Michelangelo's "David."

As the children left the exhibit, they picked from a nearby basket a marble chip from Mrs. Rheingrover's studio, a touchable keepsake of their own.

"Touchables 1993" will be at the Westbrook Gallery through Dec. 16. Gallery hours are 2 to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, and by appointment. The public is welcome. There is no admission fee. The gallery is located off Ferst Street behind the Student Services Building on the Georgia Tech campus.

Copyright 2002-2004 - Barbara Rheingrover. All Rights Reserved.