For much of her life, Elizabeth Mayeux said she had been prejudiced against the visual arts.
“No offense meant – just because I can’t see it,” said the 44-year-old, who has been blind since birth. “I thought it was irrelevant.”
Now she may be experiencing a change of heart.
Mayeux was recently one of the first to test out a new exhibition of contemporary paintings at the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia, showcasing a new way of presenting visual art to people with visual impairments.
Tactile graphics are reproductions of paintings made on thick cardboard embossed with different textures, representing various elements of the composition of the image. These textures are intended to help visitors “see” the paintings at their fingertips.
Through the Cultural Accessibility Organization Philadelphia Touch ToursMayeux and Simon Bonenfant were invited to discover “Liberty: Don Troiani’s Paintings of the Revolutionary War”, an exhibition of 46 historically accurate paintings depicting key battles of the war.
Bonenfant, also blind from birth and now a freshman at Chestnut Hill College, said he had always been keen to better understand visual art.
“I remember being much younger, going to places like the art museum and seeing paintings behind glass – well, not seeing them, but getting to know them,” did he declare. “I remember feeling left out because I couldn’t experience things like everyone else, feel the emotion or the intensity behind it. I couldn’t understand that.
The artist has an idea of what he means.
The battle scenes of Troiani are full of historical details. He says they act as visual documents for a war with nothing else to show for himself.
“It’s underpainted. If you want to see a picture of a battle, in many cases there’s nothing you want to see,” he said. “There may be a few old woodcuts or some old magazine illustrations that are inaccurate. There is no real visual documentation of all these great scenes.
Thus, for half a century, Troiani researched all aspects of the Revolutionary War in depth, including the topography of battle sites, the way certain individuals chose to dress on the battlefield, the uniquely decorated cartridges of soldiers and the laced jackets of battlefield drummers.
“I have a file on every regiment in the Revolution, on both sides,” Troiani said in a phone interview from his studio in Connecticut. “Every time new information appears, it goes into this file.”