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Louisville workshop challenges people to make masks by touch, not sight

Children pose in hand-made masks. Mask vary in color and design.
Museum for the American Printing House for the Blind
The mask-making event challenges attendees to take a hands-on approach, literally, to conveying emotion by relying on texture and touch as opposed to sight.

How does someone convey fear through touch? What about anger? The Museum of the American Printing House for the Blind (APH) challenges people to use their sense of touch to convey ideas during a mask-making workshop this weekend.

Before any creation begins, workshop organizers explain the history of masks.

“The workshop [goes] into the way that all kinds of different cultures around the world use masks… the way that masks are used to communicate information,” museum director Mike Hudson said.

Then, facilitators ask participants how they might start their efforts to express those ideas through tactile means.

“We have just piles and piles and piles of different types of materials, things that are rough, things that are soft, things that are hard, things that are feathery,” Hudson said.

For people who have spent their lives relying on sight to process the world, moving to a tactile frame of mind can come with a steep learning curve.

“I remember one young man one year, he kept starting and stopping and starting and stopping and an hour and a half went by so fast that when he got done, he hadn't attached a single thing to the mask,” Hudson said.

People participating in the workshop in years past have made masks feel angry, scary, happy but one has stood out to Hudson over the years.

“Beauty,” he explained. “It's not really an emotion, it's more of a feeling, but I think a lot of people, a lot of kids spend a lot of time trying to make something beautiful to the sense of touch.”

The mask-making workshop showcases the way APH uses tactile features in the literature they make for people who are blind or have low vision.

“We use that idea for all kinds of things like maps, science, illustrations, in textbooks, math, graphs, and a lot of educational materials use different tactile materials to create those sensations,” Hudson said.

The workshop displays one of the many ways people with various levels of vision loss navigate the world using other senses.

Earlier this month, during their annual conference APH hosted the Insights Art competition to award the work of blind and low vision artists.

“It’s mission is to change attitudes about blindness both on the part of people who are sighted, but also on the part of people who are blind – to instill a sense of pride and in all of the achievements that people who are blind or low vision have have have made to society and to the way that people live their lives,” Hudson said.

The mask-making workshop is Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. at Louisville Free Public Library Crescent Hill branch. People interested in attending can call 502-574-1793 to register.

Support for this story was provided in part by the Jewish Heritage Fund.

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Breya Jones is the Arts & Culture Reporter for LPM. Email Breya at bjones@lpm.org.

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