Touch and feel

06 September 2013

HOW do you help visually impaired people to enjoy some of the great and meaningful art to be found in our churches? Rochester Cathedral has made one distinguished effort. Its fresco on the theme of baptism, believed to be the first fresco to be painted in an English cathedral for 800 years, has been reproduced in low relief on a bronze panel that people are invited to touch and explore with their fingers.

The 30ft × 20ft fresco was completed by Sergei Fyodorov in 2004, and there is now a much smaller version on a bronze panel by Wendy Daws, a professional artist who, as a volunteer, runs the Medway Art Group for the Kent Association for the Blind (KAB). At university, she had written a dissertation on the value of touch, and how museums can help sight-impaired visitors. "I am interested," she says, "in how we engage with the world if our senses are impaired. For some time I have been looking at sight impairments, and exploring how one might experience things if we are not permitted to touch."

She was commissioned by the cathedral to create a tactile interpretation of the fresco, and, after a series of consultation workshops, began carving clay in October 2012. After almost 1000 hours of work, she delivered the clay master to the Meltdowns Foundry in Ramsgate last May, and the finished relief now stands in front of the fresco, with an invitation to touch it.

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