Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

From Faribault: There are no limitations with art March 15, 2017


AS A CHILD, I hooked nylon loops onto a pegged plastic square then wove more loops the other direction to shape a potholder.

My potholders were rather useless given their minimal size and synthetic material. But still, I gifted many aunts with potholders on their birthdays and they graciously thanked me.



I never pursued weaving beyond that childhood obsession, although I was convinced that some day I would weave rag rugs like my Uncle Bob. A long retired Minneapolis police officer, he learned the craft from his mother and has given me many sturdy rugs for my home.



As a child, I admired Helen Keller. I still do. I often wondered what it would be like to be deaf and blind as she was and to overcome those disabilities with such determination. After suffering a sudden sensory hearing loss in my right ear six years ago, I understand partial deafness. But to be blind, that stretches my imagination.



With that background, I was especially drawn to a section of the Student Art Exhibit at the Paradise Center for the Arts in Faribault. It features SAORI weaving, free-style hand-weaving that originated in Japan. Minnesota State Academy for the Blind students created the woven art under the guidance of artist-in-residence Chiaki O’Brien.



I expect the texture of the materials makes this craft especially appealing to those with limited or no vision. Their other senses, including the sense of touch, are heightened.

I think then back to Helen Keller and how her devoted teacher, Anne Sullivan, spelled w-a-t-e-r into Helen’s hand as water rushed over it.



I wonder then how the hands-on teaching of Chiaki O’Brien affected visually-impaired students at the Minnesota Academy as they saw with their hands that they could create art. What a gift.

FYI: The Student Art Exhibit, featuring artwork from nine Faribault schools, runs through April 1 on the second floor of the Paradise Center for the Arts in downtown Faribault.

This concludes my recent series of stories on current exhibits at the Paradise Center for the Arts in Faribault.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Artwork photographed with permission from the PCA.


16 Responses to “From Faribault: There are no limitations with art”

  1. Almost Iowa Says:

    It looks like some of the old wiring boards for unit record equipment (remember the days before computers?) 🙂 Seriously…. very beautiful.

    • Oh, there were days before computers? Ah, yes, I remember now. My first job as a reporter, I typed my news stories on an old manual typewriter. Probably a Royal.

      I, too, love this weaving and would hang any of these in my home.

  2. Jackie Says:

    How wonderful that these visually impaired children are able to experience this “gift”. The weavings are beautiful, I wonder if what they feel is as colorful as what we see? With a heightened sense of feel, I bet it’s close.

  3. Missy's Crafty Mess Says:

    Those woven pieces are absolutely stunning and you’d never guess that the person who wove them was visually impaired. Thanks for sharing

  4. Jayne Says:

    I bought my grandson a little plastic loom like you wrote about. We have so much fun with it!

  5. Bernadette Thomasy Says:

    I like how you always bring your personal experience into the art interpretations. How many of us made those potholders and can relate a bit to this beautiful weaving. Thanks for the great close ups that help us feel the textures.

    • Thank you, Bernadette. Adding that personal glimpse makes for more interesting reading, I think.

      I wonder if the potholder weaving loom you is in a toy hall of fame somewhere. It should be, along with jacks and jumpropes.

      The close-ups were for that sole reason, to show the texture, which is what these students “see.” Glad you caught that intention.

  6. Valerie Says:

    Another reason to make the effort to see this show before it closes. Wonderful images! Thanks for bringing to our attention!

  7. Sue Ready Says:

    Great images showcasing the art show. Quite amazing the accomplishments for those visually impaired.

  8. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I now feel like going to see this show before it closes. I learned so much from the MSAB students while I was doing the weaving residency. They taught me ‘I can’t see/hear… so I can’t do” is not an excuse. I had a wonderful time with the students!! (MSAB teacher, Jennifer shared your post with me. Thanks, Jennifer.)

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