Photos by Tina Garceau
New acquaintances, experiences, and situations often remind us that there is far more than meets the eye, but what about when nothing reaches one’s orbs? Throughout her commended career, Teresa Jaynes has found herself fascinated with addressing perception and detailing what we derive from our observations. As the Visual Culture Program Artist-in-Residence for the Library Company of Philadelphia, she has taken on what she dubs a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” in curating “Common Touch: The Art of the Senses in the History of the Blind,” a multisensory exhibition consisting of items that document visually impaired individuals’ educational journeys and of original pieces that encourage the call to nurture quenchless curiosity.
“We really wanted something that would analyze the depth of communication,” Jaynes said from the Center City space that is presenting the dual offering through Oct. 21. “I have always had an appreciation for storytelling, and that’s what these components reinforce. They speak to the diverse concept of understanding what we perceive in having exposure to information.”
The Bella Vista resident relayed that the project stems from enthusiasm for working with historical collections and from a desire to increase her knowledge of the manner in which blind and visually impaired people have adapted to their surroundings and excelled as contributors to society. Holding that “It’s hard to come up with a dead end” when conducting Library Company of Philadelphia-situated research, she drew inspiration from the location’s Michael Zinman Collection of Printing for the Blind and set herself to pairing some contents with works that guests will experience via touching, smelling, and hearing.
“There’s no doubt that sight is important, but how mandatory should we consider it when it can’t always prove reliable?” Jaynes questioned. “In fact, there’s nothing foolproof, so why not investigate how knowledge can become ours through different applications of the senses?”
The intersection of history and a new world of tactile expression commenced in April, with the run serving as the successor to her inaugural interaction with The Library Company. 2014’s “The Moon Reader” likewise found Jaynes consulting Zinman’s collection in creating two books that invited patrons to learn the eponymous raised-letter writing system for the blind invented by educator William Moon. Another analysis of the nature, foundations, and limitations of perception and an attempt to look at historical and contemporary connotations of art, that work bred an urgent urge to devote more attention to the chronicled population’s explorations of selfhood and desires for full lives, two wonderful gifts that society often contends such figures can never maximize.
“Investigating sources then struck me even more resolutely as a form of play,” Jaynes said of inspecting Zinman’s accumulated helpers. “It all then became a sifting process that reverberated with me as I contemplated what I should add.”
“At its heart, ‘Common Touch’ is the story of an artisan, a mathematician, a composer, and a surveyor,” an exhibition aid explains, noting that the artist used their accomplishments to develop “first person constructions” that rely on geometric and abstract forms that proved fundamental resources in educating 19th-century sightless individuals. One such element, an embossed paper owl sculpture constructed through her use of passages from blind authors, is particularly powerful, with all of the components as exemplary promotional guides in making everyone refrain from indulging in generalizations.
“We’re stressing the nature of a full sensory experience,” the curator said. “Being blind or visually impaired is a hindrance, yes, but it’s not a sentence to a joyless life. Through an exhibition that looks at perception, I hope people are able to perceive that we’re all immensely gifted.”
Thanks to her ceramicist mother, Jaynes grew up with access to “a bazillion kinds of materials.” Deeming everything fair game, the Dallas-bred seeker also came to rely on her grandmother’s penchant for telling stories, with the tales anchored in exploring the lives of tireless women.
“Those stories became my stories, and I loved getting a new narrative,” the grateful practitioner said of using those yarns to inspire a quest to add her voice and talent to the art world. “What also helped was growing up in a very important and pivotal social era through which women could realize that their possibilities were fascinating and robust.”
Noting that her ilk needed “a certain willingness to swim upstream,” Jaynes decided to flow with Philadelphia’s current, earning her master of fine arts degree from Temple University’s Tyler School of Art. In the 35 years that she has resided in the metropolis, with 26 of them in Bella Vista, she has become a devotee of its gritty and accessible identity and has certainly seen each second as a chance to challenge the status quo, most notably through co-founding and working as the executive director for Philagrafika.
“Philadelphia initially drew me in because of the mindblowing qualities that I found in coming to understand what makes it tick and what motivates its residents,” Jaynes explained. “Fast forward a few decades, and I find it even livelier and compelling. For someone who loves stories, I can’t lose no matter when I go.”
Along with Philagrafika, the 1999 Pew Fellowships in the Arts recipient has generated affiliations with, among others, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Philadelphia Folklore Project, the Philadelphia Art Alliance, the Rosenbach Museum & Library, and the Fleisher Art Memorial, 719 Catharine St., where, in 2012 and ’13, she served as interim director before the site selected Queen Village denizen Elizabeth Grimaldi to lead operations.
“When I moved here, I did so because I looked forward to gaining a better sense of the evolution of art,” Jaynes, who has also found domestic bliss through her three-year marriage to wife Eileen, said. “Now that I’ve done that to a degree, I want to write a few more chapters and make a few more observations. I believe that I grew up in an immensely important time, and it’s great to explore the results of that period and the ambitions that younger generations have, too.” ■
Call 215–546–3181, or visit librarycompany.org.
Contact Editor Joseph Myers at firstname.lastname@example.org or ext. 124.