The Island 360: A journey through touch: PW Art Guild shows work of blind artists
By Cameryn Oakes, The Island 360
August 15, 2023
Antwawn Williamson grew up with music in his home as far back as he can remember. He said he remembers coming home every day to his mother’s piano music filling the space of their home.
“It would never stop,” Williamson said as he communicated through his tactile sign language interpreter. “It was constantly happening in our house.”
Williamson followed in his family’s footsteps and picked up the guitar, but as time passed Williamson’s vision began to diminish. Within six years, he said everything deteriorated, including his vision and his ability to play the guitar.
But being DeafBlind has not stopped Williamson in his pursuit of art and music, whose sculptural piece “Musical Instrument Group” is being displayed at the Art Guild of Port Washington for its newest exhibition.
The exhibit, “Journey through Touch: A Tactile Art Experience,” displays a diverse collection of art in different mediums created by members of the Helen Keller National Center. The art exhibit – which patrons are invited to touch – was produced entirely by artists who are blind, have low vision and are DeafBlind.
This was the first collaborative DeafBlind exhibition between Helen Keller Services and the Art Guild of Port Washington.
The Art Guild is a local nonprofit that provides art classes, workshops and exhibits with the purpose of offering an inclusive and enriching art environment. It has a rotating gallery and monthly themed art exhibits.
Art Guild Executive Director Lisa Grossman said the guild is a community-based visual arts center that has in recent years expanded services to reach a diverse array of community members. This includes art workshops for cancer patients and neurodiverse adults.
Helen Keller Services is an organization that provides services to individuals who are blind, DeafBlind, have low vision or a combination of hearing and vision loss. The Helen Keller National Center is located in Sands Point, but centers are spread throughout the United States.
Williamson’s “Musical Instrument Group” depicts various clay instruments and vinyl record players. He said the piece’s stage floor is a wood base because you can feel the vibrations.
His second artwork in the exhibition, “Pool Table,” is a mixed-media depiction of a pool table with two pool cues and pool balls.
For Williamson, having his art shown in the exhibit has given him a new perspective.
“Having it being shown here, what I made, and the Helen Keller National Center have really helped me as somebody who has lost their vision later in life,” Williamson said.
Williamson said it is his goal to learn how to play the guitar again.
Antonia Isnardi, an art therapist at the Helen Keller National Center, said the art program at the center is a place for students to decompress after long days of learning other skills and working.
Isnardi said her job is to simply get students to give art a chance, but over time the participants have become increasingly dedicated to the craft.
“But as beautiful as these pieces are, the artwork means so much more than how they appear,” Isnardi said.
Isnardi said the participants’ artwork has become a “vehicle of communication and connection” which speaks when words cannot be used.
Grossman said the Art Guild’s mission is to “create an inclusive and enriching home for visual arts education, exploration and exhibition.”
Grossman said she first viewed the art exhibit hosted by the Helen Keller National Center in December at its Sands Point location. She said it was incredible learning about how the artists created their artwork.
Grossman said the Art Guild was inspired to show the artists’ works to the rest of the community.
“We are all members of the same community,” Grossman said. “I always feel like there would be so much less hatred in the world if people understood one another and got to know how similar we really are. I think that an exhibit like this does that.”
Grossman said she is hopeful that the exhibit will inspire patrons to pursue their passions regardless of their abilities.
“It’s so important to show everyone that you are capable of doing anything,” she said.
Helen Keller Services CEO Sue Ruzenski said the exhibit is a celebration of creativity, diversity and inclusivity.
“Their works of art are not just beautiful and inspiration, but they really do provide us with a unique perspective, a window into their perspective of the world,” Ruzenski said.
Ruzenski said that while she is hopeful that the art in the exhibition will bring patrons joy, she also hopes that it will spark a conversation to bring together the community through their shared experiences.
“Art has this incredible power and it really does reflect our value as a society,” Ruzenski said. “It really brings the experiences to us of different communities and tonight we are able to celebrate the richness of human experience from the perspectives of people who are blind, have low vision and are DeafBlind.”
Ruzenski thanked the Art Guild for welcoming Helen Keller Services and hosting the exhibit.
“This is really a message to us that signifies how much you support our mission at Helen Keller Servies and certainly supporting the arts,” Ruzenski said.
Ruzenski also thanked the HEARTS Port Washington organization, a local arts nonprofit, for providing a grant to Helen Keller Center to support their art initiative. Grossman said Hearts donated a $2,000 grant to be split between the Helen Keller National Center and the Art Guild.
Grossman said she is hoping to continue to work with the Helen Keller National Center in the future and provide ongoing opportunities for their artists.
The exhibition is on display at the Art Guild at 200 Port Washington Blvd. from Aug. 4-18 and is open from noon through 4 p.m. on Aug. 15-18.