"We call it multi-sensory miracle-making.”
The students in Nancy Raia’s art class at the Southwest Alabama Regional School for the Deaf and Blind do not need all of their senses to paint. Instead, all they need to use is their hearts.
Raia, a local artist and community outreach director at the Eastern Shore Art Center, has spent the last 10 years volunteering with students at the Mobile school. Though technically she’s teaching them how to make art, she insists that she’s the one doing the learning.
"I feel like I'm immersed in learning," she told AL.com. "I learn from the way they problem-solve."
Often, Raia outlines an object, such as a vase full of flowers, or a jellyfish, in puff paint. This creates a raised line the students can feel with their fingertips. "Let your fingers take a ride!" she tells them. And so they do, filling in the spaces with their tiny, paint-covered fingers.
"I don't clean it up because I love the way they do it," she told AL.com with tears in her eyes. "It's perfect the way it's made, because it's from their little soul."
The results, more often than not, are incredible.
"Children with different perspectives on the world teach me every single day how to see the beauty in all things, and to be grateful I am here and sharing this world with them," Raia said. "It is a gift to me every time I see them walk or tap (the cane) or roll (a walker) into the classroom."
This Friday from 6 to 9 p.m, a collection of artwork by the students, who range from age 3 to fifth grade, will be on display and for sale at the Danielle Juzan Gallery inside the Mobile Arts Council in downtown Mobile. This will be the first time the school has shown artwork in a gallery outside of its own annual spring show.
Despite its successes, the public school doesn’t have a formal art program. Raia teachers her class just once a month on a volunteer basis. That’s another reason the gallery show is such a big deal: the proceeds will help fund the school's art program.
"We struggle every year to fund our art program, so we can show the community what our kids can do, instead of what they can't do," Amy Hess, the school's orientation and mobility specialist, told AL.com. "Art is the language of love."