One day, a blind man discovered a screw painting by Andrew Myers with his hands. The blind man found as much enjoyment out of the tactile elements of the work as any sighted person ever has by just looking at them. Andrew considers this moment as one of the most inspiring of his career. This led us to a question: Why is touching artwork so taboo?
Prior to the mid-1800s, tactile interaction was commonplace for visitors experiencing collections of art, but as museums of art evolved, rules forbidding touch became the norm. In some cases, these were to protect artwork that truly was not meant to be touched, but in large part these norms had nothing do with preservation and everything to do with nineteenth century politics of gender, race and class control.
In light of all this, we decided to create a documentary that elevates the role of tactile art within visually impaired community. It was at that point that we met George Wurtzel.
George is a blind artisan and teacher working at Enchanted Hills Camp in Napa - a 300 acre summer camp for the visually impaired that’s nestled in the red wood forest above Napa Valley. Here George teaches others, through example, how to use the tools necessary to become artisans.
Currently, George is converting an old grape crushing barn into a Tactile Art Center. The top floor of the building is his 1900 sq. ft. woodworking shop. The bottom floor will be a tactile gallery space where visually impaired can experience and sell artwork.
We fell in love with George and his mission and wanted to support his new tactile art gallery. Working with Andrew Myers, we surprised George with a tactile portrait of himself - the first portrait he was able to feel and recognize.
This sculpture took about 2 months to complete. It has roughly 4,000 screws in it. We carefully packed the sculpture and started the long drive from Andrew's studio up to the mountains above Napa. Then, we snuck into George's future gallery and hung the portrait for him to discover. As he experienced this for the first time (and between bursts of laughter) he kept repeating the phrase, "Mind boggling."
Not every piece of art needs to or should be touched... But perhaps it’s time we took a look at how pervasive and mandatory our "no touching" rules really are - it might help everyone see artwork a little differently.
To see more footage of George and the documentary check our instagram.