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October 22, 2004

Art historian discusses work, impact of deaf artists

From: Nashville City Paper - Nashville,TN,USA - Oct 22, 2004

By Ron Wynn,
October 22, 2004

Deaf art historian Deborah Meranski-Sonnestrahl spent six years studying and evaluating the work of more than 60 deaf artists for her award-winning book Deaf Artists in America: Colonial to Contemporary. Meranski-Sonnestrahl, in town today for two special programs and discussions about her book at the Nashville Main Library, said that while there are many similarities in the work of deaf and non-deaf artists, the extra dimension added by deaf artists was their interest in language.

"Interest in communication or language is often lacking in other artists," Meranski-Sonnestrahl said. "Since the passage of the American with Disabilities Acts (ADA), the selection of a deaf person as president of Gallaudet University and increased publications on deaf artists, they have made their greatest impact within the art world today. I have noticed more art galleries are holding art shows by deaf artists, and more art museums are inviting deaf artists to give presentations or hiring them as docents."

"In addition, it is an irony that visual arts educate the public about deafness more than any written articles. For instance, Francisco de Goya's (1746-1828) (a deaf Spanish artist who changed the course of art history) deafness was hardly mentioned in art history books published before 1970, but since the '80s you can't find a book published where his deafness was omitted. His artwork changed dramatically after he became deaf and made a tremendous impact on the arts. Art historians finally realize the impact of the artist's deafness within the art world."

Meranski-Sonnestrahl cites George Caitlin, Albert Newsman, Maurice Pederast, Douglas Tilden and David Bloch among 11 major deaf artists. Caitlin preserved Native American culture, Newsman did famous Americans, Pederast introduced Impressionism to America, Tilden's sculptures are still standing in San Francisco and Bloch did Holocaust work gleaned from his personal experience. Others she mentions include Augustus Fuller, Morris Roberson, Betty Miller, David Hackney, Ann Silver and Mark Fisher.

In addition to the book discussions, the library is also hosting today a one-day exhibit of winning artwork from artists that participated in the League for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing's First National Juried Art Competition. The exhibit's theme is De'via, which uses formal art elements with the intention of expressing innate cultural or physical deaf experiences.

Getting there
What: Deborah Meranski-Sonnestrahl discusses her acclaimed book Deaf Artists in America: Colonial To Contemporary
When: 10:45 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. today
Where: The auditorium in the downtown Main Library, 617 Church street
Cost: No charge
Info: 862-5755

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