Campus Life

Texas A&M Exhibition Features Works By Blind Artist

The 'Cast of Blues' exhibition at the Stark Galleries allows patrons to touch casts that were made of the faces of legendary Blues musicians.
By Lesley Henton, Texas A&M University Division of Marketing & Communications April 29, 2021

 

The J. Wayne Stark Galleries at Texas A&M University is exhibiting “A Cast of Blues,” a collection of cast resin masks created by artist Sharon McConnell-Dickerson, who is blind. Visitors to the exhibition can wear provided gloves and touch the masks, which are greatly detailed in their features, down to the last pore and wrinkle.

The Blues music of the Mississippi Delta is celebrated with the cast collection, featuring the faces of legendary musicians such as Bo Diddley, Ruth Brown, and Eddie Cusic.

Amanda Cagle, collections manager at the galleries, said the artist started with traditional plaster molds, making the casting in person with each subject. “Then she used those to make the cast resin version, which are stronger than plaster,” Cagle said. “You can see from the slight grimace on some musicians’ faces, indicating that the casting process was probably cold and a little uncomfortable. But, they toughed it out and the results are so precise that you can make out the tiniest detail.” Most of the subjects have since passed away, so the pieces have become unique memorials.

McConnell-Dickerson, creator of the “life casts,” lives in Mississippi and said she was inspired by the music she loves to discover the faces behind the songs.

“A life cast is like a 3D photograph to someone who is blind,” McConnell-Dickerson said. “It captures the flesh, muscle, bone, hair, and subtle expressions of emotion.”

The life casts are designed to be touched, making them accessible to everyone, a feature that Cagle said was important to gallery staff.

“We provide disposable gloves so that everyone can experience the hands-on elements of the show,” she said. “Putting yourself in the place of a sight-impaired artist, you can reach out with your other senses to experience the tactile side of music and history.”

The exhibition also has a book in braille with information about the pieces.

“If you close your eyes and reach out and brush your fingers across the lips that sang those songs, the eyes that looked out over the cheering crowds, the ears that listened closely to the tune and songs of their friends and elders, then, it becomes a transcendent moment to connect with those musical masters,” Cagle said.

The exhibition also features photos of Blues legends by acclaimed photographer and longtime Mississippi resident Ken Murphy from his 2010 book “Mississippi: State of Blues.”

Cagle said the exhibition pays homage to a uniquely American style of music. “Blues, much like Bluegrass and Zydeco, are born from an amalgamation of traditions and experiences,” she said. “The Blues are pure emotion, passion, pain, and life poured out over chords that can bring you to your knees. It can break your heart and stitch it back together at the same time.”

“A Cast of Blues” is on display until May 21 in the Stark Galleries, MSC 1110.

Visit University Art Galleries online for gallery hours, virtual tours and more.

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