Common Touch: The Art of the Senses in the History of the Blind

On April 5, the Library Company held a celebratory opening for its current exhibition Common Touch: The Art of the Senses in the History of the Blind. Organized by the library’s Visual Culture Program (VCP at LCP) and curated by artist-in-residence Teresa Jaynes, the exhibition is inspired by the Library Company’s Michael Zinman Collection of Printing for the Blind.


Reception, Common Touch: The Art of the Senses in the History of the BlindCommon Touch
 immerses visitors into a world of discovery in which history intersects with new forms of tactile expression. Complemented by 19th-century personal narratives, raised-print textbooks, and teaching tools of the visually impaired, Jaynes’s original works challenge our cultural assumptions about the interrelationship between art, sight, and the history of disability. Exhibition visitors are invited to touch displays that range from a topographic map with porcelain geometric forms that represent the travels of a prominent 18th-century English blind surveyor to movable, sculptural letters after the handwriting of a blind woman corresponding with a benefactor in the late 19th century. Other installations submerge visitors into a cocoon of sound and scent conveying a micro-narrative of the life of Victorian blind musician Thomas “Blind Tom” Wiggins. A series of silkscreen printed patterns represents a visual transmutation of Wiggins’s noted composition March Timpani (1880), an artist book of raised prints after embossed diagrams of snowflakes in the Perkins School for the Blind adaptation of the science text The Rudiments of Natural Philosophy (1845), and an 1838 edition from the first American raised-print periodical The Students’ Magazine (1838-1845) are on display in the innovative exhibition.

Reception, Common Touch: The Art of the Senses in the History of the BlindCommon Touch is accompanied by several public programs, including a performance of Terry Galloway’s comic, moving, and sometimes profane one-woman show You Are My Sunshine – A Kind of Love Story; a discussion with award-winning author Stephen Kuusisto on blind history and its place in art; and a jazz concert by New Orleans pianist and vocalist Henry Butler and Philadelphia’s master percussionist Pablo Batista.

For more information about the exhibition and its accompanying programming, visit commontouch.librarycompany.org. Common Touch has been supported by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage. Partners include Art-Reach, Demeter Fragrance Library, the Gershman Y, Institute on Disabilities at Temple University, Monell Chemical Senses Center, Philly Touch Tours, and Philly Jazz Project initiative. Media sponsorship has been generously provided by WHYY. The exhibition is on view  through October 21, 2016.