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More than just an art class : New Glasgow's NSCAD studio instructor completes their residency

Outside his home in the town of Pictou, Chris Knowles holds one of the projects he and ten other people with visual impairment made at the NSCAD Community studio in New Glasgow.
Outside his home in the town of Pictou, Chris Knowles holds one of the projects he and ten other people with visual impairment made at the NSCAD Community studio in New Glasgow. - Brendan Ahern
NEW GLASGOW, N.S. —

An art group which formed last March and has met every week since then has recently said goodbye to its teacher.

“It wasn’t just ‘come to my art studio and do something’, her preparation for everything was just phenomenal,” said Julie Martin who helped form the group and participated in it as a student.

Preparation is critical whenever leading any group in a project or daily activity, but this class required a teacher who could really think outside of the box, and to really see the world through different sets of eyes.

“She was very conscious of what would work with no vision, or with low vision,” said Martin.

“It’s just been part of my life,” said Sarah Mosher, who spent the last half of the year working in a studio just behind the New Glasgow Public Library.

Mosher, a recent graduate of NSCAD took the art college up on its offer to do a residency program which, if she applied successfully, would take her out of Halifax to one of four different communities in the Nova Scotia. One of them was New Glasgow.

“I used to visit in the summers once in a while,” said Mosher who grew up in the Annapolis Valley but has close family ties to New Glasgow. In her application for the residency she had to tell the Canada Council for the Arts what she had planned to do once she got there.

“I said that I wanted to explore how to make my visual artwork more accessible to someone who is visually impaired,” said Mosher.

Mosher’s medium is mainly in textiles. She weaves, knits, sews and is proficient with a loom.

Working on her own, Mosher used the complex and medieval looking contraption to explore art which could be experienced not just through sight, but through touch.

But it wasn’t enough for her to stay shut-away in a studio by herself.

Pathway leading to the NSCAD studio just being the public library in New Glasgow.
Pathway leading to the NSCAD studio just being the public library in New Glasgow.

Visual art for the blind

“I like to work with the community with my artist practice,” said Mosher. “It helps me understand what I’m trying to make artwork about.”

So, with coordination with the Let Abilities Work Partnership Society, of which Martin is also a chairperson, Mosher set up an arts workshop for individuals who have either total or partial vision loss.

For Chris Knowles of the Town of Pictou, these weekly gatherings over a six-month period had had a lasting impact.

“We’d do art, talk, and joke around, it was just a great social outing,” said Knowles who has what’s called Diabetic retinopathy, a condition where blood vessels in the retina become damaged as a result of diabetes. Started began losing his vision at an early age, and by 17 he had total vision loss.

“You can only do much when you’re blind, and when people see, they can only tell you so much,” said Knowles. “But I do a lot now. Now that I’ve done art, I know that I can do more.”

For Martin, who also lives with a degree of vision loss, these workshops gave her the opportunity to once again pick up a crayon and colour in-between the lines.

“Like when you go to the restaurant with the kids and the waitress brings them a colouring sheet, I’d say, ‘Oh, can you bring one for the kids as well please’?”

During one of their sessions Martin told Mosher this, and when they met again the following week Mosher had devised a way for her to colour in the lines using construction paper and pre-drawn images in which Mosher used fabric paint so that the lines could be felt.

“I’ve got them all over my house,” said Martin. “I can’t tell you how much joy it was to be able to just sit down, take some pastels, and simply colour in the lines.”

Whether they were working on ceramic bowls, clay sculpture, decorating garden slabs made of concrete, or working on the group’s patch-work quilt, both Martin and Knowles say that it was the social aspect which made the workshops meaningful.

“It’s not easy living with low vision, because we’re such a visual world and it can become quite stressful, and it was nice to just go and be open and honest about our lives and share experiences,” said Martin.

It's about to get messy. Art Group instructor and New Glasgow / NASCAD artist in residence Sarah Mosher explaining phase to of Wednesday's art project.
It's about to get messy. Art Group instructor and New Glasgow / NASCAD artist in residence Sarah Mosher explaining phase two of Wednesday's art project.

One the biggest barriers in the way of people with vision loss and connecting with their community, Martin says, is transportation. And since many people who live with disability are also on a limited budget, taking a cab or even CHAD transit is not always an option.

Mosher would not let that be a barrier to attending her workshops.

“If anyone was stuck or a drive, she had no problem doing that. She was so hands on,” said Martin.

It’s just part of my life

For Mosher, the opportunity to explore art through the lens of vision loss also has a personal significance.

“I have dealt with vision loss in my life,” said Mosher who at the age of 11 experienced near total vision loss overnight. Optic Neuritis can occur when the optic nerve becomes inflamed from either an infection or a nerve disease.

“I had to go to school and everything for a week or two with really low vision,” said Mosher who has full vision now but is still living with the condition which could result in further vision loss down the road.

“I wanted to explore it more and try to see how people could be artists even if they are visually impaired.”

The quilt, which the everyone in the workshop worked on together, is not quite finished. Mosher says that there are some final touches to add, but after that The Town of New Glasgow has already expressed interest in displaying it for culture days weekend Sept. 27-29 inside the NSCAD studio.

Read more: https://www.ngnews.ca/news/local/my-hands-are-my-eyes-now-visual-art-for-people-with-vision-loss-309901/

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