Public Art Highlight – Tactile Wall at Industries for the Blind

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By Margaret Seay

The Pfefferkorn Playground at Tracy’s Little Red School House, a part of Winston-Salem Industries for the Blind, has a new feature, a mosaic wall assembled by local artist Betti Pettinati-Longinotti and her team of assistants and volunteers. Through her work, Pettinati-Longinotti hopes to inspire the blind, visually challenged, and the sighted as well. This mission is echoed in the Helen Keller quote, “Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.” written several times in Braille and the English alphabet along the wall. Towards the center of the wall, there is also the unique feature of hands made from melted shards of glass and mounted onto large square tiles. These glass hands were based on molds made from the hands of children and employees at Tracy’s Little Red School House, as well as the team of artists that assisted in assembling the glass hands, the donor of the wall Gordon Pfefferkorn, and several Industries for the Blind administrators.

According to Pettinati-Longinotti, “It is the largest installation of its kind in the Winston-Salem area and perhaps the state,” made of an assembly of ceramic pieces, glass, and other found objects. These disparate pieces come together to form various images including depictions of aspects of the school, like Joey the miniature horse, who works with the kids at the children’s center.

Despite its collaborated style, the layout of the wall was not completely random, as it was planned in detail by Pettinati-Longinotti and her assistant, now-graduated Salem College student Courtney DeBerry. When coming to see this wall, visitors are encouraged to get up and touch and explore. This is a holistic artistic experience, and the many grooves and shapes and even the occasional bowling ball on the wall give texture to the piece. By closing your eyes, a new layer of the piece is revealed as your hands skim across the shape of a trombone, a walking stick, a bicycle wheel, or textured tiles that are cool to the touch.

“The found objects were discussed as an inclusion in the wall before any fabrication began,” Pettinati-Longinotti said. “Chris Flynt, one of the blind administrators, discussed objects and things he remembered seeing and experiencing growing up when he still had sight, among them the bowling ball, bicycle wheel, etc.”

One blind teenage student involved in SEE (Student Enrichment Experience, an organization based at Tracy’s Little Red School House and dedicated to providing visually impaired and blind children with interactive, fun experiences) spent the day of the wall’s unveiling tracing the wall, not even pausing to get refreshments.

The making of the wall spanned from March up until September, during which Pettinati-Longinotti set up shop in the back of Tracy’s Little Red School House, which was already equipped with a kiln. It was a highly collaborative project, involving members from BB&T, the children in the SEE program, employees from Industries for the Blind and Tracy’s Little Red School House, members of Pettinati-Longinotti’s family, and an assortment of other volunteers and artists. As a result, the wall uniquely appeals to people of all different ages and levels of sight or lack of sight.

“Everything needed to be tactile, textured, and sensitive for the blind and visually impaired, to touch and appreciate through that sense,” Pettinati-Longinotti said. “Being child-centered and collaborative was also imperative, elements that they helped to create and will appreciate for years to come.”

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