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‘Place of Healing:’ Envision opens art gallery featuring visually impaired artists

Envision Art Gallery lead image
Andrew Lopez/KMUW
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Envision Arts Gallery has opened two new exhibits in downtown Wichita featuring artists with visual impairments.

Both SENSES and the Youth Arts Exhibition feature work from local artists with visual impairments, blindness or other physical or cognitive disabilities.

Gretchen Howarth is one of several artists featured in SENSES, one of Envision Art Gallery’s two new exhibits featuring visually impaired creatives.

She created Splash, an abstract landscape painting with a bright fuschia and dark, deep purple background. In the foreground are cool hued flora and fauna. Over the entire landscape, there is bright, yellow paint splattered across the canvas.

Howarth has a visual disability known as Stargardt, an ocular condition that has been degrading her vision for close to 20 years. And eight years ago, it made her legally blind. She says her vision resembles a galaxy – dark, without a center of focus.

“I kind of look around the center of focus, but I'm also seeing through these thousands of dots, which is where Stargardt comes from. It's named after a perfectly black sky where you can see all the stars. And that's what I see through,” she said.

Envision Arts Gallery image 2
Andrew Lopez/KMUW
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“Splash” is an abstract landscape piece by Gretchen Howarth. It’s on display at the Envision Arts Gallery.

Both SENSES and the Youth Arts Exhibition feature work from local artists with visual impairments, blindness or other physical or cognitive disabilities. The theme for the exhibition was developed to showcase how those with visual disabilities interact with and understand the world around them through their other senses.

Featured on the gallery walls are depictions of western landscapes, abstract conceptualism, wooden carvings and varying arrangements of ceramic sculptures. Some pieces even echo the style of famous glass artist Dave Chihuly, whose work is on display at the Wichita Art Museum.

Stretching across the floor are long tape markings, a visual guide for individuals with blindness to follow as they make their way through the exhibits.

Howarth said she began painting landscapes with the help of her smartphone’s camera a few years ago. But when she discovered Envision’s Adult Art Studio, she was exposed to new techniques and styles.

“Sarah, our teacher, pushed me towards trying new stuff. So I tried acrylics, fell in love with acrylics, and then she was urging me to try abstract,” she said. “I'm playing with colors and shapes and textures and techniques.”

Gallery Director Sarah Kephart has been spearheading art classes, workshops and other community events for students interested in art at Envision. She highlighted Tomiyo Tajiri, a visually impaired artist whose work was showcased at Envision Arts Gallery earlier this year.

Tajiri now has a permanent exhibit in Gallery Alley, in downtown Wichita.

“It’s those kinds of moments that show how important and empowering it is for all people to have access to a space where they can exhibit their work or have the resources and ability to create,” she said.

Envision Arts Gallery image 3
Andrew Lopez/KMUW
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Stretching across the floor are long tape markings, a visual guide for individuals with blindness to follow as they make their way through the exhibits.

Kephart considers the Adult Art Studio at Envision an essential, unofficial support group for all the students who practice at the studio.

Feeling isolated at home, students who use the studio space get the chance to connect and learn the tips, tricks and techniques of art and translate them into everyday life skills.

“At the end of the day, it is just a place of healing, comfort and support,” she said.

The healing power of art is something Howarth understands well. In her mind, the color purple represents that healing, as well as the memory of her brother.“I had a brother, Edson. He was dying of AIDS and was going to art therapy. He was so excited to tell me about art therapy, and he went on and on about the healing power of the color purple. And that just always stayed with me,” she said. “So, I think the notion of healing is inextricably connected to the color purple for me now.”

SENSES is on display until Aug. 26, and the Youth Arts Exhibition will be on display until June 24.

Envision Arts Gallery is on East Douglas between Rock Island and Mead.

Visit www.envisionartsgallery.com for more information.