Hello everyone! I recently visited the One Man’s Vision exhibition, located at Salford Museum and Art Gallery, to help evaluations with curator Laura Wigg-Bailey. This presented the opportunity to explore all of the installed exhibits, items of interest and the audio tour since its opening in late September.
The One Man’s Vision exhibition celebrates 177 years of Henshaws Society for Blind People, and sheds light on how the social attitudes to and services for visual impairment have changed over this period of time.
It ‘invites its visitors to think about visual impairment by choosing different ways to experience the world, using a range of senses. This hands-on and accessible display is one that can be enjoyed by all of its visitors.’ It features tactile signage in the form of Braille labels, and has a range of objects and artworks available for handling.
The exhibition itself starts on the right-hand side of the exhibition space where the MP3 players, containing the pre-installed audio tour, are housed. A member of staff will be situated nearby to help if needed and the device itself provides all of the details of the buttons found at the front of the player, and their functions, on the opening track.
The audio tour is contributed by Anne Hornsby, of Mind’s Eye Description Services, enabling visually impaired and blind art gallery, museum and theatre-goers to have increased access to the arts and cultural events.
For the exhibition Anne goes into great detail about each historical object, portrait and related item of interest – as well as the story of Thomas Henshaw and his Will, helping to develop what is now known as Henshaws Society for Blind People. Also provided is the amount of steps needed in order to enter the main exhibition space, as well as instructions on how to use the red tactile marking to help guide blind and visually impaired visitors around the display cases safely and independently.
RNIB PENfriends are situated between each display case, housed in a plinth, with corresponding voice-recorded labels that are pre-loaded with information pertaining to the labels found in the display cases on either side. A PENfriend is an electronic device, shaped much like a pen, that enables the blind to record their voice onto small labels to identify and differentiate between different objects. This allows sight-impaired visitors to have the same access to information as a sighted person, in an audio format. The audio tour notifies the visitor when a PENfriend is in the vicinity so that extra information can be accessed.
The first objects and paintings to be explored are the bust of Thomas Henshaw (c. 1860), an engraving of the ‘Manchester School for the Deaf and Dumb with Chapel and Blind Asylum’ (c. 1826) and a Portrait of Thomas Henshaw. These objects provide the introduction to the exhibition and the life story of Thomas Henshaw, benefactor of Henshaws Society for Blind People – Manchester’s oldest charity, and one of the oldest charities in the country.
Following the introductory items is a table of objects that may be used on a day-to-day basis by blind and visually impaired people. Visitors are very welcome to handle and explore these fully-functional objects. These include a document reader containing a printed copy of the Will of Thomas Henshaw, which can be enlarged or have the colour and contrast setting altered (instructions are provided in Braille, print or audio formats), Braille books with J.K.Rowling’s “Tales of Beedle the Bard” as the maine example, a signature guide, a handwriting guide, pocket magnifiers, bolded Berol pens, a symbol cane, talking scales and food control guides.
Blindfolds and simulations specs are also located on this table of interactive objects, for those who wish to experience the exhibition as a blind or visually impaired person would. These also help to showcase a better understanding of what can and cannot be seen with various different eye conditions and the barriers that are faced. The simulation specs come in different varieties, some of which represent central vision, peripheral vision, debris scattered across vision, and blurry vision.
The main exhibition, located to the right-hand side of the object table, is split into different themes. The first section is spotlighted on Thomas Henshaw’s Will and the important objects and artefacts from the Henshaws Blind Asylum that his money helped to set up after his death. Some artefacts include; a bell from the Henshaws Blind Asylum School (1920), Henshaws Souvenir Book (1937), a Minutes Book from the Manchester & Salford Blind Aid Society (1904), Manchester Picture Album (1895), Braille Writing Slate (1945), Isabel M. Heywood’s O.B.E. (1930) for her services to the blind (creating the Manchester & Salford Blind Aid Society, which later merged with Henshaws), and Thomas Henshaw’s wooden cane.
The next portion of the exhibition showcases the development of tactile writing for the blind, such as Braille, New York Point, Boston Line Type and Fishburne. The display cases in this area hold items such as religious texts incorporating these accessible styles of print, a Hughes Typograph for the Blind (arguably the first ever typewriting machine, which won a gold medal at the 1851 Great Exhibition in London), Klein Type Pin Brailler, and Braille training computer LED Visual Aids.
Following this, the next area is focused around the five most common eye conditions that cause sight loss and blindness in the UK as well as treatments and tools used by Doctors of the past. The common eye conditions are Cataracts, Diabetic Retinopathy, Age-related Macular Degeneration, Retinitis Pigmentosa and Glaucoma.The PENfriends in this area detail the eye conditions in more depth and the problems that they can cause.
The display cases contain tools used by Doctors of the past to help in the treatment of some of these conditions. Tools include a model eye ball to help with the study of the anatomy of the eye, Optometry testing equipment, hand-painted prosthetic glass eyes, a glass eye bath, eye scalpel set for Iridectomies, Weiss Cataract instruments, Giles Archer colour unit to test colour-blindness, and glasses with extra mounted lenses; all by kind permission of the Thackray Medical Museum in Leeds and Manchester Royal Eye Hospital.
Concluding the exhibition, is the final portion relating to how blindness and sight loss affects people; both those with the visual impairment and the people around them. Opening up this section is my illustration, titled ‘Elephant in the Room’, created specially for the exhibition itself. It incorporates the theme of social assumptions of and public reactions to blind and visually people, in my own personal experience. You can read more about the illustration and the meaning behind it by visiting my previous blog post here.
Next to my illustration is a display cabinet of items relating or belonging to Blind Joe; Oldham’s Town Crier of the late-1800’s, named as such because of his visual impairment. Joseph Howarth was so fondly remembered that he was immortalised into a statuette not long after his death. The corresponding display case contains the aforementioned statuette, as well as Joseph’s bell that he used when employed as Oldham’s Town Crier (giving the news to those who could not read or afford a newspaper) and his cup.
This is followed by a large printed timeline (also available in Braille and audio) detailing the major events relating to visual impairment over the previous 177 years. Some of these events spotlight just how the social attitudes toward visual impairment and blindness have changed over this amount of time.
To the right-hand side of the timeline, stands a model representation of a Napoleonic soldier. Many lost their sight in this War, and subsequent Wars too, fighting for their King and Country. They would return home to poverty with no help from the Welfare State and would ultimately be left begging for themselves and their families. The soldiers would continue to wear their uniforms out of respect for their country and as a badge of honour.
The final interactive aspect of this section is a separate audio feature, containing interviews with service users from Henshaws Society for Blind People. They describe how their lives were before visual impairment, the obstacles that they now face and how Henshaws has greatly benefitted their confidence, independence and skills through the various services, support and social groups that they provide.
I had a fantastic time exploring the One Man’s Vision exhibition! I learned many new things that I didn’t know before about various aspects of visual impairment; some of the different tactile writing styles, for example, as well as the the story of Thomas Henshaw and his life and the history behind some of the most prominent blind societies in my local area of Manchester and Salford. It was extremely fascinating, educational and accessible and I would urge anyone to visit!
The One Man’s Vision exhibition is open at Salford Museum and Art Gallery until January 18th, 2015!