I had the pleasure of meeting Lydia and writing this article for Beyond Arts Magazine’s September issue.

Lydia Olvera Blanchard had just fulfilled her dream of earning a degree in art education in 2011 when she received life changing news from her doctor. The diagnosis was clear: unless she received immediate treatment she would lose her eyesight completely.

“I panicked. I could not believe what I was hearing. My first thought was; how can I be a blind artist?  How will I appreciate and produce art?” said Blanchard. “After recovering from the shock, the experience motivated me to ask myself how I could help those with limited or no vision to appreciate the world of art. Through my research I did not find any museum in the Rio Grande Valley that had hosted an exhibit for the blind and the visually impaired. Since then I have been dreaming about an art exhibit curated especially for them,” she said. Three months ago, Blanchard began working at the Historic Brownsville Museum as a receptionist. The museum’s efforts to bring forth exhibits by local artists to integrate with its historical permanent collection granted an opportunity for Blanchard to fulfill her dream and curate the first art exhibit for the blind and the visually impaired.

Lydia Blanchard next to some of her paintings.

The Sensory and Perception Experience. The Eyes are Blind to What the Heart Can See is the title Blanchard has selected for the exhibit. She shared the idea with local artists, and without hesitation Mari Ortiz, Ana Valdes, Chantal Lugo, Maribel Ortiz, Roman Gonzalez, Stephen Hawks and Mark Clark joined her in this new venture. What can one expect from an exhibit like this? According to Blanchard paintings will be large in scale to be appreciated by people with functional blindness. The blind and visually impaired of all ages will be able to touch the paintings, ceramics and sculptures in the exhibit. “They will have the full experience, and will come up with their own conclusion and narrative,” she said. “For those who are not visually impaired and want to partake in a sensory experience of the show, we will also make that possible.” Blanchard invites artists interested in supporting this effort to contact her by September 14th. She is specially looking for artists that specialize in children’s art.

Blanchard discovered her love of painting while studying at the University of Texas at Brownsville just a few years ago. Landscapes, and cherished Hispanic traditions are her favorite themes.  Her faith in God is paramount, and so is the love of her husband and family, but her confidence she owes to the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (DARS). Through DARS, Blanchard has received medical treatment, eye surgery, and even encouragement and motivation to keep working and be independent. “They thought me office skills, and even provided me with a special computer I use at work.” Proudly, Blanchard said she was invited to impart a blind art class to DARS employees. She also teaches art to visually impaired children and is a board member and volunteer at the Carlotta K. Petrina Cultural Center in downtown Brownsville.

Last year her design for the White Cane Day 2014 t-shirt won first place among dozens of entries from all over the world. White Cane Day is an international observance that is celebrated on October 15 of each year since 1964 to celebrate the achievements of people who are blind or visually impaired. “I am busier than ever,” she said. Nothing will deter or slow Blanchard down, for she truly believes she can make a difference in the community and beyond. She hopes the exhibit will travel to other museums in South Texas to raise awareness and inspire similar art exhibits. “Helping others inspires me to improve my life,” concluded Blanchard.

The Sensory and Perception Experience exhibit will open to the public with a reception on the evening of October the 9th and will be on display until November 12th at the Historic Brownsville Museum. The museum is  located at 641 E. Madison Street in Brownsville. For more information please call (956) 548-1313.