Northern Lights

Caryl Barnett: A feeling for art

  • Updated: December 29, 2012 - 10:42 PM

Blind herself for more than 50 years, Caryl Barnett, 78, worked with the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, the Walker Art Center and the Guthrie Theater to ensure that blind visitors would not miss out on the Twin Cities' rich cultural life.

The boy is 10 and cannot see. Blind from infancy, he does not know the mass of clay on the floor beneath him is gray and nearly 200 pounds.

But as he runs his hands softly along the cool surface, Adhyayan "Adhy" Singh feels bumps and nicks. Gabriel Orozco created the "Yielding Stone" sculpture, a docent explains, by rolling the clay through his New York City neighborhood to pick up the pebbles and grit that represent urban living. A high-beam smile explodes on Adhy's face at that idea and he asks, "Does he have one of these where he lives?"

Adhy's smile is Caryl Barnett's legacy. She worked tirelessly to eliminate barriers for those without sight, enabling them to enjoy what others see by touching, caressing and holding.

Because she pushed -- to create touch tours and to train docents -- blind patrons can glide their fingers across the contours of Joan Miro's "Femme debout (Standing Woman)" at the Walker or head backstage at the Guthrie and run their fingers through Ebenezer Scrooge's whiskers.

"It was very important to Caryl that everyone with challenges experience the same world," said Sunny Floum, a friend and tactile tour guide.

With Floum at his side on a November Saturday, Adhy slips on blue gloves and tours the Walker, touching sculptures. He pauses and kneels at Nari Ward's "Den," created from pieces of tree trunk, chain-link fence, a metal pole and several furniture legs.

"Prickly stuff," the boy says.

"That's part of the tree," Floum explains, then urges him to reach higher. "What is that?"

"It's kind of like a cradle," he responds.

"It looks like the claw of a lion," Floum says, "but you know what it is? It's the leg of a chair."

Adhy giggles.

RICHARD MERYHEW

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