The University Record, October 23, 2000

Artist uses ceramics as medium to link sighted, non-sighted individuals

By Joanne Nesbit
News and Information Services

Sadashi Inuzuka, assistant professor of art, watches a piece of clay grow into art under the hands of Liz Erlewine, a junior in the School of Art and Design. Through his programs for visually impaired children, funded by the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program and the Center for Japanese Studies, Inuzuka has taken the art of ceramics to blind children both in the United States and in Japan. ‘It is an ideal material for the blind or visually impaired to work with,’ Inuzuka says about clay. ‘This physical connection with clay is so often why my students—and I—have been drawn to work with ceramics in the first place.’ Photo by Martin Vloet, U-M Photo Services
With a strong commitment to personal and social responsibility, Assistant Professor of Art Sadashi Inuzuka, a visually impaired person himself, believes in the mutual benefit of bringing sighted and non-sighted individuals together through the medium of ceramics.

“Clay is perfectly suited for personal expression through touch,” Inuzuka says, “and it is an ideal material for the blind or visually impaired to work with. This physical connection with clay is so often why my students—and I—have been drawn to work with ceramics in the first place. I believe that much could be learned and gained by bringing our students together with children who are visually impaired to work with clay.”

To bring about this connection of people and clay, Inuzuka has developed “Many Ways of Seeing: Outreach Teaching for the Visually Impaired,” a program he believes will offer U-M students opportunities to make an important difference in their communities, and give them a heightened understanding of the creative medium of clay. “Many Ways of Seeing” introduces undergraduate and graduate students to methods of teaching art to the blind and visually impaired, and prepares them to teach in an outreach community setting. Students learn through experience the expressive potential of art, their social responsibilities as artists, and to make connections with communities outside their own.

A pilot project funded by the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP) led to a series of presentations and workshops at U-M with Hohei Nishimura, a Japanese educator who works with blind children. Since that time, under Inuzuka, the project has continued to grow. A recent grant from the U-M Center for Japanese Studies allowed Inuzuka to travel to Japan for further study in art education for the visually impaired and the special ceramic techniques used in that education.

Clay is the main medium used in “Many Ways of Seeing.” The project is coordinated through the ceramics area of the School of Art and Design. Students conduct workshops for children and adults at educational institutions throughout Michigan. The students are encouraged to volunteer or work in an outreach setting, such as the Michigan School for the Blind Summer Camp, and throughout the year in other local programs in libraries and schools. A School of Art and Design graduate student, herself visually impaired, assisted in one of the workshops held last spring.

“I am confident students are learning a tremendous amount by working with children and adults with little or no vision,” says Inuzuka. “Such experiences will encourage a sensitivity toward other ways of perception and expression. This sensitivity will make them stronger artists, future educators and contributing members of society.”

“Many Ways of Seeing” counts among its collaborators the Upshaw Institute for the Blind and is supported in part by funding from Arts of Citizenship program.