Blind artist: ‘My fingers are my eyes’

Published 10:24 pm Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Julie Wallace, a client at The Blind Center in Washington, poses with some examples of her latch hook artwork. The pieces are available for sale in the center’s gift shop and will be among the prizes offered during Saturday’s Bingo fundraiser. (WDN Photo/Kevin Scott Cutler)

With a deft hand, Julie Wallace uses a latch hook to create masterpieces from canvas and bits of yarn.
Her subject matter includes Jesus, flowers, animals and landscapes, just about anything one can imagine. What makes Wallace’s artwork particularly fascinating is the fact that she has been blind since the age of 16, when retinitis pigmentosa robbed her of her sight. But she isn’t letting that slow her down.
“My fingers are my eyes and my ears are my eyes,” Wallace said.
Now 38, Wallace visits The Blind Center in Washington two days a week, where she joins other clients in crafting baskets and weaving chair seats. But her latch hook art is her first love. She began buying kits from the center’s gift shop several years ago and taking them home to complete. Those kits, along with yarn and assorted other supplies, are generously donated to the center by Spinrite, formerly National Spinning. When her completed projects, numbering approximately 300, began piling up at home, Wallace decided to donate them to center’s gift shop, where they are available for purchase Mondays through Thursdays.
“It’s just fun to do … it gives me something to do,” Wallace said of her craft. “I like doing the larger ones, like the 30 by 50 and the 20 by 27. I refuse to do the smaller ones because as soon as I get started, I’ll be done in two days.”
The intricate work and detailed patterns mean Wallace needs a little assistance getting started.
“My sister will help sort out the yarn by colors and call out the code, and I follow the instructions in Braille,” she said. “Each line has numbers, like one blue, two red … whatever the pattern is. I just count it off as I go.”
Wallace’s work will be among the featured prizes offered this weekend when The Blind Center hosts Washington Evening Lions Club Bingo on Saturday from 7 to 10 p.m.
“We’ll have over $1,000 in prizes,” said Deborah Waters, the center’s assistant director and a Lions Club member. “Washington Eye Center and PotashCorp each donated $500, and we’ve had donations from other businesses and individuals.”
The grand prize will be a big screen television, Waters added.
Since seating is limited, players are encouraged to arrive early. The doors open at 6 p.m., giving patrons time to reserve their seats, browse through The Blind Center’s gift shop and grab supper from the food court, where hot dogs, pimento cheese sandwiches, desserts and beverages will be sold.