The Braille Monitor _______ November 1997
Blind Artist Sees Ways to Share Her Creativity
by Barbara Tomovick
From the Editor: Tina Blatter is a member of the Board of Directors of the National Federation of the Blind of South Dakota. She lives in Sioux Falls, where her work was displayed at the Civic Fine Arts Center on September 7. The following article about her and her work first appeared in the May 8, 1997, edition of the Rapid City Journal. Here it is:
Tina Blatter imagined the north wind as a blue face with puffed-up cheeks, then transformed the picture in her mind, strip by strip, into a solid, three-dimensional work of papier-mache art.
At Southwest Middle School in Rapid City, where Blatter is doing a week-long Artist-in-Schools residency, students were impressed, not only by the expressive north wind mask, but by the hands that had made it.
In many ways Blatter's hands are her eyes. Legally blind since birth, she sees color and light but not detail. She uses a white cane but can quickly memorize a room and move through it with ease.
The five days at Southwest this week are enough for Blatter to teach students to make masks of their own, winding glue-dipped strips of newspaper around balloons to form heads. They'll add facial features and paint by week's end.
But the art project, valuable in itself, is only secondary, said Southwest art teacher Doris MacDonald. The primary reason she brought Blatter, forty-four, into her classes was to broaden students' perception of what is possible.
"It's just amazing how she can do it," MacDonald said of Blatter, an award-winning artist who has exhibited nationally and internationally.
It took a little while for the kids to get used to calling out "Tina" instead of raising their hands to get her attention. But on the first day Blatter and the class talked about what it's like to have a disability and the lessons that can be learned from it.
She told the students, "Everyone needs help with something. Everyone's different. We all have to be creative in finding ways to do things."
The message got through to Ross Palmer, who said, "It's kind of hard to be blind, to get around places. She has to buy a lot of different stuff--talking stuff (such as a computer) and a special (Braille) watch."
But blindness is not an obstacle to a full life, he realized. "It's kind of amazing what people can do art-wise."
Jaimie Didier also expressed admiration for Blatter, "She has neat ideas. She's just, like, really creative, and I think it's just really cool how she does this stuff."
Katie Ruedebusch said Blatter is a good artist and teacher, who encourages students to use their imaginations. "It's like your own creation, and you can make it whatever you want," she said of the mask project.
Blatter is delighted to find herself teaching art, an ambition that long seemed beyond her reach. In college in her native New York state, she majored in elementary and special education, then earned a master's degree in rehabilitation counseling, putting away any thought of studying art.
"I didn't think anyone would take me seriously," she said.
Nonetheless, a persistent creative urge kept her busy at the easel, developing her own techniques and becoming increasingly aware of the need to add texture to her paintings--to make touchable art for the visually impaired, who are shut off from museum displays.
Experimentation with built-up lines of gold and silver paint, pebbles, shells, beads, sequins, and Braille writing led to her "tactile collages," signature pieces designed to please the eye as well as the hand.
"When I have exhibits, I always say, `Please touch,'" she said.
Inspired by French painter Henri Matisse, who she said turned to cut paper as his vision faded, she began using bright foils in two-dimensional images that gleam like stained glass.
In 1990 she moved to the Denver area from Baltimore, Maryland, refined her collage techniques, and began teaching in schools and other institutions.
"I started getting out into the community and talking about being blind and doing art, about finding hope that there are other ways of doing things," Blatter said.
Her work took her as far as Brussels, Belgium. Since moving to Sioux Falls a year and a half ago, she has conducted workshops through the South Dakota Arts Council.
And although she has much to show young people about art and life, she gets as much as she gives from working with students, she said.
"They gave me so many ideas."