June 2, 2023


Without Art It's Really Boring!!!

Museum of the American Revolution presents visual art to blind patrons

2 min read

For much of her life, Elizabeth Mayeux said she has been prejudiced against visual art.

“No offense intended — just because I can’t see it,” said the 44-year-old, who has been blind since she was born. “I thought it was irrelevant.”

Now, she may be experiencing a change of heart.

Mayeux was recently one of the first people to test out a new exhibition of contemporary paintings at the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia, featuring a new way to present visual art to people with visual impairments.

Tactile graphics are reproductions of paintings made on heavy cardstock embossed with different textures, representing various elements of the image composition. Those textures are meant to help visitors “see” the paintings through their fingertips.

Through the cultural accessibility organization Philly Touch Tours, Mayeux and Simon Bonenfant were invited to experience “Liberty: Don Troiani’s Paintings of the Revolutionary War,” an exhibition of 46 historically accurate paintings depicting key battles of war.

Bonenfant, also blind since birth and now a freshman at Chestnut Hill College, said he has always been eager to better understand visual art.

“I can remember being much younger, going to places like the Art Museum and seeing paintings behind glass — well, not seeing them, but knowing about them,” he said. “I remember feeling left out because I couldn’t experience the things in the way that everybody else was, feeling the emotion behind it or the intensity behind it. I couldn’t get that.”

The artist has some idea of what he means.

In Don Troiani’s painting of the Boston Massacre, the viewer looks over the shoulders of the British soldiers and into the faces of the angry crowd.

Troiani’s battle scenes are densely packed with historic detail. He says they act as visual documents for a war with otherwise little else to show for itself.

“It’s under-painted. If you want to see a picture of a battle, in a lot of cases there’s nothing you want to see,” he said. “There might be a couple of old woodcuts or a couple of inaccurate, old magazine illustrations. There’s no real visual documentation of all these great scenes.”

So for a half-century, Troiani has been deeply researching every aspect of the Revolutionary War, including the topography of the battle sites, how particular individuals chose to dress on the battleground, the soldiers’ uniquely decorated cartridge boxes, and the laced jackets of the battleground drummers.

”I have a file on every single regiment in the Revolution, on both sides,” said Troiani in a phone interview from his studio in Connecticut. “Whenever any new information turns up, it goes into that file.”

Visual art for the visually impaired: Philly museum tests out new ways to experience paintings

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