'To Free the Artist Within ©'1985.

     One memorable, however rather short period of my life begun when I allowed my husband to convince me to sell my bookstore in 1978 and join the millions of middle age people who were moving south to Florida. He was 64 at the time and I 51. We were both New Yorkers and both recovering from major death threatening diseases, he a severe heart attack and I a major healing after an extended lymph node cancer surgery, which gave us a right, we thought, to choose a life of early retirement. First we traveled to Europe and then to Warsaw and Poland for two weeks. After that it was time to settle in a small apartment at the very edge of the sea.

     Atlantic Ocean seen framed by the apartment’s fourth story picture window, presented me with a magnificently different sunrise each morning and my husband with his favorite joke when he showed the ocean outside the window to our friends, by saying “and now look at the size of our pool”.

     Anyway, I was just as happy as he was. I now had enough time to paint and even experiment with making clay portraits. Our sons were grownups making their life choices completely on their own with perhaps some help from us whenever it was needed.

     Visiting museums became one of my favorite past times and that is when I witnessed a scene in a museum in Palm Beach which was to engage me into a completely new and important way of teaching art. I followed a teacher into a specially prepared room filled with marble and wooden sculptures placed on platforms specially designed for blind from birth youngsters aged four to seven. I heard the teacher say: “Please look at these sculptures carefully, I will want to see what you have seen”. Little hands were touching the smooth surfaces very slowly and happy faces on which the happiness was palpable had smiles of recognition visible on all of them. “Look carefully”, repeated the teacher. Suddenly my thoughts went to the face of my sitter who asked to have his portrait done and to the method I used when I did his ears. In order to do them completely the same I did not look at the piece I was working on, first one side and then the other. Like those children I worked using my imagination and saw with my hands while looking at my sitter. “Wow!,” I thought to myself. Why not use this method when I teach anatomy and why not use it with blindfolds, when my students have with their eyes closed as they are learning the structure of their own skeletons.  

     The Miami Herald reporter after witnessing my workshop for teachers in West Palm Beach, called my method of teaching sculpture without the use of eyes “Honing the Senses” and, I could not agree more.

     In July of 1981 after 30 years of marriage I suddenly became a widow and six months later, after meeting Dr. Jean Houston, begun my journey as a “Possible Human”. Enrolling at the New York National Academy in Bruno Lucchesi’s class for two years quickly added to the mix, however all of it, excluded living in South Florida so I moved into a very small penthouse apartment at the Apthorp.

     The holistic center in New York City called the Open Center offered many opportunities to people like I. Freeing the Artist Within became a title of the workshop I offered there during the first two years of its operation. Patented in 1985, it gave me an opportunity to travel with it and even make it a financial success as a de-lux boxed set of special clay and my voice on the cassette. Selling the first 50 boxes was not difficult, but when the second orders begun to come in, I realized that I really was not an entrepreneur and decided to go back and use my invention in the way I originally intended to do. Simply as a way to teach sculpture without the sense of sight interfering with the creative process. The Swans pictured here were not done by artists but by blindfolded participants at one of my Workshops, who for 20 minutes while listening to Saint-Sean’s, Swan from the Carnival of the Animals without the use of their eyes, were encouraged by my voice, to became the swans, while swimming on the floor, which for them became the beautiful lake. They choreographed, their own swimming renditions and finally still while blindfolded sculpted. The small pieces of clay I provide for all the workshops hardens in minutes in the oven, and the joy on the faces of the artists who admire their swans later, for the first time with open eyes, never fails to make them all into joyous artists.  




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Irena Rutenberg