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Blind man’s perspective helps artist pick donation for fundraiser

Ray Zylinski’s fingers moved quickly over the sculptures. He only had a few minutes to pick a favorite from the five set in a row on the gallery table at Casa de Arte Gallery on Elmwood Avenue.

His fingertips fell like rain from the top of the small woman’s head until he detected a fish in her hand. He liked this game.

If not for the white cane in his hand, he had the look of a young professional dressed for business in a crisp, bright blue button-down. It wasn’t often that he was invited to touch art.

Most galleries are for looking with eyes, not hands. But the artist owner of Casa de Arte wanted someone who could not see to select the sculpture she would donate for next Thursday’s “Dining in the Dark” fundraiser for Zylinski’s non-profit employer.

Zylinski was glad to help. It was Friday afternoon and the end of his workday, at the Olmsted Center on Main Street, where he trains visually impaired people to use computer software.

Zylinski came with a colleague from the center. In about 15 minutes he would have to catch a special city bus that takes him directly home to his apartment in Hamburg.

He worked fast. Next on the table was some kind of creature. Four legs. Spiked horns. A buffalo!

To the right, he could feel the fine features of a small, sitting woman. Another, covered in drips, crouched with her head down. Very cool.

The last was more mysterious. A sphere next to broken parts of a sphere. He liked the variation and repeated pattern.

“I call it, ‘Genesis,’ ” said artist Mara Odette, who stood watching expectantly. She designed the bronze as eggs on a palm leaf of her native Mexico. One was whole and one cracked open.

“It’s OK if you have another view,” she said.

Zylinski touched all the sculptures a second time. He has been blind since eye cancer hit both eyes when he was a baby.

He is not glad about his blindness, but he likes his life and his job helping others learn computer skills and find jobs.

For fun, Zylinski plays chess with a special tactile board with raised squares. He is fond of math and its hard logic.

He is not usually one for art.

“So which one speaks to you the most?” asked Renee DiFlavio, senior vice president at Olmsted. They came together.

Now they had to hurry to get to back to Olmsted for the city bus pick-up. If he missed the scheduled ride, he could lose the privilege for a month.

He paused. Now that he understood the story behind the eggs, he liked the concept. It seemed like a metaphor for the beginning, middle and end.

“Stages of life,” he said simply, before being hurried out the door and into a car for a ride to the bus stop.

Odette had watched with pleasure as Zylinski went over her sculptures. The one he picked, with a $3,800 price tag, was the most expensive in the lineup. People who buy the $125 tickets at olmstedcenter.org for the Thursday evening Dining in the Dark benefit at the Hyatt Regency will have a chance to take the sculpture home.

She had put that one in at the last minute. She had been sure Zylinski would pick the more figurative woman with a fish. She learned something unexpected and she was happy about it.

At 71, she figures she has another two decades to work on making her art better. This was the first time someone who couldn’t see examined her art. Zylinski’s interpretation expanded on her intention that the bronze eggs of Genesis represent a new beginning.

Now she wants to send out more unconventional invitations and find out what other people with unconventional ways of seeing will find in her gallery’s sculptures of faces, flowers, a girl running, a woman in a palm hammock and shapes she’d yet to make.

“It broke a barrier for me,” she said, “and gives me a curiosity.”

email: mkearns@buffnews.com

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