An artistic vision

Mill­brook res­id­ent Mar­garet Bu­jas has been a par­ti­cipant in the art pro­gram for more than two dec­ades. JENNY SWI­GODA / TIMES PHOTO

The pro­gram ‘Form in Art’ gives people with sight lim­it­a­tions an out­let for cre­at­ive ex­pres­sion.

It is well-known that fam­ous com­poser Lud­wig van Beeth­oven was deaf, but many of the most cre­at­ive in­di­vidu­als throughout his­tory suffered from dis­ab­il­it­ies as well. 

Artist Pierre-Au­guste Ren­oir coped with nearly de­bil­it­at­ing arth­rit­is. Ed­ou­ard Manet, also a renowned artist, had a leg am­pu­tated, while artists Edgar De­gas and Claude Mon­et were hampered by visu­al impair­ments.

Art isn’t defined by phys­ic­al dis­ab­il­it­ies, and in the tra­di­tion of these in­spir­ing artists, the Wills Eye In­sti­tute in Cen­ter City has un­veiled its 23rd an­nu­al ex­hib­i­tion of works cre­ated by in­di­vidu­als liv­ing with im­paired vis­ion. 

On Sept. 8, vis­it­ors gathered to tour more than 100 works of art cre­ated by stu­dents en­rolled in Form in Art, a pro­gram of the Phil­adelphia Mu­seum of Art.

Set up on the eighth floor of Wills Eye, at Eighth and Wal­nut streets, the pub­lic ex­hib­it is free and com­prises sculp­tures, paint­ings and a wide se­lec­tion of hand­made clothes and fur­niture.

Since its in­cep­tion in 1972, the Form in Art pro­gram has helped in­di­vidu­als who are leg­ally blind — a de­gree and dur­a­tion of impair­ment defined by fed­er­al stat­ute — to ex­press them­selves through their cre­ativ­ity.

 “They get their own time in the mu­seum, it’s des­ig­nated just for them, and there are some ex­hib­its they can touch,” said Jude Wise, a Form in Art co­ordin­at­or, while ex­plain­ing how the stu­dents — typ­ic­ally about 50 each year — are able to ex­plore the art mu­seum to seek in­spir­a­tion from oth­er artists. 

Wise said the art mu­seum provides touch tours and visu­al de­scrip­tions of artist­ic pieces to help stu­dents grasp the works in the gal­ler­ies. Also, only about 20 per­cent of the visu­ally im­paired stu­dents who re­gister for the pro­gram are totally blind, mean­ing that many of the artists can rely on visu­al ref­er­ences. 

“Every year we try to make it new and re­fresh­ing,” said Wise. 

In the years that the art mu­seum has been present­ing the pro­gram, Form in Art has blos­somed to be­come quite pop­u­lar, Wise said. In fact, after more than three dec­ades, one of the ori­gin­al stu­dents is still an on­go­ing par­ti­cipant.

The Wills Eye In­sti­tute, long re­garded for its treat­ment and re­search of vis­ion con­di­tions, star­ted to ex­hib­it the cre­ations of Form in Art stu­dents in 1989, when Alice Lea Tas­man, chair­wo­man of the an­nu­al art show at Wills Eye, came upon some of the stu­dents’ work dur­ing a vis­it to the Phil­adelphia Mu­seum of Art. 

 “I said, ‘Why don’t we show these works as a beacon of hope at Wills?’” Tas­man said dur­ing an in­ter­view last week. “It’s such a won­der­ful testi­mony to cour­age … I think it’s won­der­ful. I just love it, and I know the artists love it.” 

North­east res­id­ent and long­time stu­dent Mar­garet Bu­jas — she’s been part of the pro­gram for more than 20 years —truly loves the cre­at­ive out­let. 

 “I love it … it really helps ful­fill my cre­ativ­ity,” said Bu­jas, who lives in Mill­brook.

Con­fined for the most part to a wheel­chair, Bu­jas has mul­tiple scler­osis and dia­betes. At times she does wear leg braces. And though she can see, the dis­eases have severely dam­aged her vis­ion, yet the Form in Art pro­gram has summoned a cre­at­ive side that she nev­er thought she had, Bu­jas ex­plained. 

 “When I first went, I didn’t know what to ex­pect,” she said. “But they really go out of their way to make you feel com­fort­able.” 

Dur­ing her two dec­ades as a pro­gram par­ti­cipant, Bu­jas has watched her class­mates open up while ex­posed to the cre­at­ive ex­pres­sion of pro­du­cing their art­work. Just as she did, oth­ers are find­ing av­en­ues to ex­press them­selves in a world that may have seemed in­tim­id­at­ing at first. 

It’s an ex­per­i­ence Bu­jas rel­ishes so much that she doesn’t plan to stop at­tend­ing Form in Art classes any­time soon. 

 “I’ll tell you this,” she said, “it’s something I’ll nev­er drop out of.” 

Ju­lia A. Haller, oph­thal­mo­lo­gist-in-chief for the Wills Eye In­sti­tute, said the health-care cen­ter loves to have the art­work on dis­play. As a doc­tor, she sees firsthand how this cre­at­ive out­let can help their emo­tion­al heal­ing.

 “It really proves that they are cour­ageous. It proves they can con­trib­ute to so­ci­ety,” said Haller. “We really love the art and we are al­ways sad when it leaves.”  ••

The Wills Eye In­sti­tute, at 840 Wal­nut St., is host­ing the free Form in Art ex­hib­i­tion through Sunday, Sept. 18. The free ex­hib­it, on the eighth floor of the in­sti­tute, fea­tures about 100 works of art cre­ated by visu­ally im­paired artists. Many of the artist­ic pieces are for sale. Pro­ceeds of the art pur­chases go dir­ectly to the artists. 

Re­port­er Hay­den Mit­man can be reached at 215-354-3124 or hmit­  


comments powered by Disqus