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WHEN ART LOOKS GOOD TO THE TOUCH

Visit just about any museum and strategically-placed signs and well-meaning security guards warn you not to touch the art. But a traveling exhibit at Lighthouse of Pinellas encourages exactly the opposite. The appropriately titled "Feel the Art"exhibit features tactile adaptations of famous works of art. The 3-D paintings are geared toward blind and visually-impaired people, who can experience the works through their fingertips.

Lighthouse volunteer art teacher Susan Dillman said her students are familiar with tactile art because they use textured materials in their own projects. Dillman said several students were awed that they could identify shapes and images through touch.

"They were really quite fascinated by that," she said.

The exhibit is sponsored by VSA arts of Florida, which is part of an international nonprofit agency devoted to promoting the arts among people with disabilities. Students from Coral Reef Senior High School in Miami created the pieces between 2001-04 after lessons in tactile art and disability awareness.

In a reproduction of a 1946 Frida Kahlo painting called The Little Deer, students used mulch to represent the tree trunks and pencil shavings for leaves. The sky was crafted out of plastic wrap and the clouds were made from cotton balls. Toothpicks served as the deer's antlers.

Other artists used sandpaper, plaster over rolled newspapers and various fabrics to recreate scenes from well-known paintings.

The exhibit not only allows Lighthouse clients to experience artwork after losing their sight, but it also fosters independence by reminding them that life goes on after blindness, said Lighthouse development associate Laura Palmisano.

"There's still hope after vision loss," Palmisano said. "You can still be an artist, just a different type of artist."

Rita Farlow can be reached at farlow@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4162.

To learn more

If you go

'Feel the Art' will be on display at Lighthouse of Pinellas, 6925 112th Circle N, Suite 103, Largo.

The exhibit will be open to the public from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday and March 8 and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesdays Feb. 13 through March 5. Call 544-4433 for details.

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