American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults
Future Reflections
       Convention 2016       REVIEW

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Painting in the Dark: Esref Armagan, Blind Artist

by Rachelle Burk
Illustrated by Claudia Gadotti
Tumblehome Learning, Inc., 2016, 32 pages
201 Newbury St., Suite 201, Boston, MA 02116
info@tumblehomelearning.com
ISBN: 978-1-943431-14-4
Reviewed by Ann Cunningham

Cover of Painting in the Dark by Rachelle BurkFrom the Editor: Ann Cunningham is a sculptor who works to promote the tactile appreciation of art. She teaches art at the Colorado Center for the Blind.

In this slender book for middle-grade and older readers, Rachelle Burk tells the extraordinary story of painter Esref Armagan. Armagan was born totally blind into a working-class family in Istanbul, Turkey. From early childhood he had a boundless thirst for knowledge. Burk recounts how he investigated the world through touch and endless questions, and, in the process, learned to make pictures.

I read the book with Anton, a twelve-year-old blind friend of mine. Anton was thoroughly engaged with the beginning of the story. He thought it was very funny when he realized he wasn't the only one who exasperated his parents with questions! He thought this would be a good book to read in his class at school. Anton felt that kids at school might understand him better if they heard Esref's story.

As an artist who is focused on making access to information available tactually, I was fascinated with the story from beginning to end. Armagan's tenacity and creativity are awe-inspiring! Anton and I made a date to try out Armagan's glue-and-string painting technique. When we followed the directions (the illustrations added a lot to my understanding of how to recreate some of Armagan's techniques) we enjoyed success and were eager to try out other ideas. This book gave us a great jumping-off point to explore tactile painting.

This book is the story of a real person and the many challenges he faced to make his life what he wanted it to be. It is hard to imagine the fortitude that kept Armagan moving forward, despite many major setbacks. Ms. Burk does not shy away from the barriers of culture, illness, and social limitation Armagan had to overcome in addition to his blindness. Neither does she avoid Armagan's emotional struggles on his journey to success.

An audio version of Painting in the Dark with picture descriptions and a Braille version with tactile representations of some of Armagan's paintings are due to be available in December 2016. The first print edition is full of brightly colored pictures that give the reader a good idea of the environment in which Armagan grew up and present a sampling of his artwork. However, the text consists of white print with a black outline, which might be difficult for readers with visual impairments. The publisher is redesigning the text, and the next edition will have black text on a lighter background.

This book will be of keen interest to blind children, their parents, and their teachers; to anyone who wonders about techniques for making art tactually accessible; and of course to anyone who loves an inspiring, true-life story. I highly recommend this book, and I am excited that the author and publishers are so dedicated to making it as accessible as possible.

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