VAN NUYS : Youths, Blind Adults Share a Feeling for Art

When Anne Nathan-Wlodarski decided to introduce troubled teen-agers from her art therapy class to a group of blind adults from the Braille Institute, she wasn't sure how it would go.

But Wednesday, after the meeting took place in an art gallery, what she hoped would happen, actually happened.

"I have a feeling of shock," said Richard, 17, of Los Angeles, a quiet, tall, thin teen-ager from Wlodarski's class at the Mid Valley Youth Center in Van Nuys. Richard stood with his hands clasped in front of a watercolor painting. But his eyes were locked on the man who had just walked away from him toward the gallery door.

Like Richard, the departing figure was tall and thin. The man, Samuel Davis, smiled a lot, but his eyes saw nothing as he walked out of the Woodland Hills gallery with the aid of a cane, tapping his way slowly around pieces of pottery and burled, wood-turned vases.

Richard's mild state of shock, he said, was induced by the behavior of the blind man, and the other blind people he had just met. "I thought they wouldn't want to talk much. I thought they'd be real alone," Richard said. "But they weren't. They were so friendly. They don't feel like, they don't seem to feel left out of anything. They try to do as much as they can. It's hopeful."

Wlodarski proposed the meeting as a way for her students, most of whom come from broken homes, foster homes or troubled backgrounds, to see how other people deal with difficult problems in life.

The students were first asked to don "distortion goggles," which impaired their vision. Then, they and the blind adults were treated to a walking tour of Artspace Gallery, where the work of a dozen local artists was highlighted. The art then was described to them by Braille Institute arts and crafts coordinator Rosalie Copeland.

Joan Rapoport, a potter and ceramics teacher whose work was exhibited in the gallery, allowed the group to touch one of her works, a raku glazed, iridescent vase, entitled "Fat Fish."

A broad grin broke out on the face of Gracie Jacobian, a nearly blind senior citizen, as her hands gently probed the surface of Rapoport's vase.

Next, 86-year-old Rae Robbins from Los Angeles hungrily, but carefully, felt its contours. "And these are the fish's eyes? And this is the tail?" she asked, astonished. "Oh my God it's beautiful!"

Later, the group sat down together and each sculpted a block of clay into their own personal work of art.

Shavonne, a 16-year-old from Whittier, fashioned her clay into a Fudgesicle, wearing her distortion glasses all the while.

"I'm not sure what mine turned out like, but I wanted it to be a spine," said Samuel Davis. "Feeling that fish vase, it made me think about the spine of a fish."

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