March 23, 2017
The blues musical genre is celebrated through photography, sculpture, music and interactive media in Cast of Blues, an exhibit that begins at Endicott College on April 6. A celebration of Mississippi’s rich musical heritage, A Cast of Blues features 15 resin-cast masks of blues legends created by visually-impaired artist Sharon McConnell-Dickerson, as well as 15 color photographs of performers and of juke joints by acclaimed photographer Ken Murphy. The exhibition’s compilation of sculpture and photography creates a compelling portrait of the men and women who defined—and continue to shape—the tradition of Mississippi blues.
Originally from New England, McConnell-Dickerson worked as a flight attendant and chef on corporate jets. At age 27, she was diagnosed with Uveitis, a degenerative eye disease which has caused her to go nearly completely blind. After several years of surgeries and treatments, she became involved with sculpture, which she now uses as a vehicle in which she is able to access a lost sense.
In addition to the sculpture and photographs, the exhibit also features an interactive 3D work of art created by John Olson and 3DPhotoWorks LLC, with support from the National Federation of the Blind. This 3D printing process allows blind people to “see” fine art, diagrams, and other images. Inspired by research conducted by neuroscientist Dr. Paul Bach-y-Rita of the University of Wisconsin, 3D tactile printing is based on the concept of neuroplasticity. As Dr. Bach-y-Rita's research within the blind community confirms, “the brain is able to use tactile information coming from the fingertips as if it were coming from the eyes. That's because we don't see with our eyes or hear with our ears, these are just the receptors, seeing and hearing in fact goes on in the brain.” 3DPhotoWorks recognizes Endicott College as the first College in North America to serve this audience with his interactive media.
“We are grateful for the work of John Olson co-founder of 3DPhotoWorks. His expertise while we worked on this collaborative project was immeasurable,” said Kathleen Moore, Gallery Director and Coordinator of Visual Arts at the Walter J. Manninen Center for the Arts. “This 3D project included the assistance of students, administration, and physical plant. We hope that all visitors will enjoy their experience with this interactive piece.”
Visitors to The Walter J. Manninen Center for the Arts can experience A Cast of Blues in the Heftler Visiting Artist Gallery from Thursday, April 6 – Thursday, May 25. The reception for the exhibition will take place on Thursday, April 13 from 5:00 – 6:30 p.m. with musical entertainment from Westford Academy jazz band under the direction of George Arsenault. The reception is free and open to the public.
The exhibition is accessible to all visitors, featuring braille labels and educational materials, as well as a music playlist for gallery use and a closed-captioned film about the Cast of Blues project. In addition, visitors are encouraged to touch the resin-cast mask sculpture. Says McConnell-Dickerson, “As a sculptural and visual art experience, feeling the life-made casts of these individuals and their facial expressions transfers their experiences directly to our fingertips.” The exhibition is also accompanied by the 2008 documentary film, M for Mississippi: A Roadtrip through the Birthplace of the Blues (94 minutes).
Organized and toured by ExhibitsUSA, a national part of Mid-America Arts Alliance, the exhibition was curated by Chuck Haddix, music historian, author, radio personality, and director of the Marr Sound Archives at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. ExhibitsUSA sends more than 25 exhibitions on tour to more than 100 small- and mid-sized communities every year. More information is available at www.maaa.org and www.eusa.org.
A Cast of Blues is funded in part by the van Otterloo Family Foundation and Endicott College. If you are interested in bringing a group through the exhibition please contact Kathleen Moore, Gallery Director and Coordinator of Visual Arts at the Walter J. Manninen Center for the Arts at 978-232-2655 or kmoore @endicott.edu.