Friday, 17 October 2014

Visit to One Man's Vision Exhibition

One Man's Vision exhibition
20th September 2014 - 18th January 2015

Earlier last week I visited the One Man's Vision exhibition, at Salford Museum and Art Gallery, for the first time since its opening to the public in late September. The exhibition celebrates the life of Thomas Henshaw, benefactor of Henshaws Society for Blind People, Manchester's oldest charity at 177 years old.

I visited with curator Laura Wigg-Bailey to help with evaluations which also presented the opportunity to experience all of the installed exhibits and the audio described tour.

Tour of the Exhibition

The tour begins on the right-hand side of the exhibition space where the MP3 players, housing the pre-installed audio tour, are located. A member of staff will be situated nearby to help, if needed, and the player itself provides all of the details of the buttons on the front of the device and their functions on the opening track. The audio tour is provided by Anne Hornsby, of Mind's Eye Description Services, enabling blind and visually impaired museum, art gallery and theatre-goers to have increased access to the arts and cultural events.

For the exhibition Anne goes into detail about each historical object, portrait and related item of interest, as well as telling the story of Thomas Henshaw and his Will; which helped to develop what is now known as Henshaws Society for Blind People. Also provided is the number of steps needed to enter the main exhibition space and instructions of how to use the red tactile marking to help guide visually impaired and blind visitors.

Bust of Thomas Henshaw (1860)

The audio tour begins at a marble bust of Thomas Henshaw, sculpted in 1860. It details the appearance of Henshaw, from his double-chin to his receding hairline, as well as a brief history of the sculpture itself including the story behind the crack in the neck of the bust.

Engraving of 'Manchester School for the Deaf and Dumb
with the Chapel and Blind Asylum' (1826)

Portrait of Thomas Henshaw

After hearing an introduction and overview to the life of Thomas Henshaw, we are then greeted by a table of items that are 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.

Items include a document reader containing the Will of Thomas Henshaw, Braille books with J.K.Rowling's 'Tales of Beedle the Bard' as the main example, a signature guide, a handwriting guide, pocket magnifiers, bolded pens, a symbol cane, talking scales and food control guides.

Document reader containing a printed copy of Henshaw's Will

Blindfolds and simulation specs are also housed on this table for those who want to experience the tour as a blind or visually impaired person would. These also help to showcase a better understanding of what people can and cannot see with their sight condition and the barriers that they face. The simulation specs come in many varieties, some of which include representations of; central vision, peripheral vision, scattered debris across vision and blurred vision.

The exhibition is divided into sensory tours

The exhibition can be experienced in a variety of sensory ways; seeing and touching, seeing only, touching and hearing, and hearing only. Each corresponding experience is accompanied by a coloured line:

Black Line: Seeing and Touching
Blue Line: Seeing
Red Line (Tactile): Touching and Hearing
Yellow Line: Hearing

Each coloured line will guide you around the exhibition space and objects safely, pertaining to the sense(s) you have selected. As a severely visually impaired person myself, I chose the red line of touching and hearing. The touching aspect is implemented by a tactile red line, made of felt, that is easy to follow around the exhibits and the hearing aspect is provided by the MP3 player's installed audio tour.

Information board about Thomas Henshaw's Will

The exhibition continues with a wicker crib presenting a tactile and visual representation of the ones that were made everyday at the Henshaws workshops during the early 1900's. The workshops provided employment to visually impaired and blind people of the time up until the 1980's when they were closed, due to health and safety and equal opportunities issues.

A large, black chest engraved with 'Henshaws Institution for the Blind' is presented next. This was owned by the Solicitors Slater and Heelis (now known as Slater Heelis LLP), who stored Henshaw's Will and other important documents inside the chest when working on his legal case of ensuring his £20,000 went to his charity supporting blind people.

Following on from the chest is a display case of important local items, including; a bell from the Henshaws Blind Asylum School (1920), a minutes book from the Manchester and Salford Blind Aid Society (1904), Henshaws Souvenir Book (1937), and Isabel M. Heywood's O.B.E (1930) for her services to the blind, creating the Manchester and Salford Blind Aid Society. A Manchester Picture Album (1895), Braille Writing Slate (1945), a Framed Picture of the Godfrey Ermen Home for the Blind (1920) and Ceremonial Trowel (1964) are also included in the display case.

Special artefacts relating to Henshaws

RNIB PENfriends are situated between each display case of special objects, housed on a plinth with corresponding stickers preloaded with information, allowing VI and blind visitors (or those choosing to be blindfolded for the exhibition's sensory tour) to read the information that is printed on the labels located next to each object in the display case.

A PENfriend is an electronic device, in the shape of a pen, that enables the sight-impaired to record their voice onto labels and identify different objects. The audio track on the MP3 player will mention when a plinth of PENfriends is nearby so that further information can be obtained from the stickers relating to the items in the corresponding display cases.

RNIB PENfriend housed in plinth

The next items in the exhibition are located on the wall, and feature photographs and a printed emblem. The photographs are of Miss Isabel M. Heywood, O.B.E. and the founding Trustees of the Manchester and Salford Blind Aid Society (with Miss Heywood in the centre). The society was founded in 1900 and opened a small home at The Crescent, Salford and developed by opening more homes and workshops over the years. They later merged with Henshaws in 1980.

The printed emblem is that of the Manchester and Salford Blind Aid Society, with the tagline "to lighten the world for the blind". Inside the emblem is an illustration of a winged angel holding a torch, comforting and helping a young woman who has fallen to her knees. Scrolls surround the top of the illustrations with the words 'friendship, instruction, recreation and help'.

Manchester & Salford Blind Aid Society emblem

The next display case contains various crockery from the Oldham Bluecoat School for the Blind, which was set up using funds bequeathed by Thomas Henshaw in his Will, as well as a selection of miniature hats that Thomas Henshaw used to showcase his designs; Henshaw was originally a Hatter businessman. Thomas Henshaw's wooden cane, and a child's bag made at the Oldham Workshop for the Blind are also displayed.

Above this display case is a bronze plaque from the 'Institution for the Blind' in Oldham, from 1933. The plaque was unveiled by Councillor Marjory Lees to commemorate the opening of extensions to the original building.

Child's bag made at Oldham Workshop for the Blind

The next section of the exhibition focuses on the development of adaptive writing styles for the blind; including Braille, Moon, New York Point, Boston Line Type and Fishburne.

Books containing different tactile writing styles

A display case houses different texts incorporating some of these adaptive writing styles, with more information provided by the PENfriends located on the adjacent plinths. The display case in this section contains tools that were used to create these writing styles, including; a Hughes Typograph, Klein Type Pin Brailler, and Braille Training Computer LED Visual Aids. Also included in this display case is a set of embossed dominoes adapted for blind players, and a Braille Micrometer used in machinery.

Braille training computer LED visual aids and Braille Micrometer

Displayed on the wall above this display case is an oil on canvas portrait of William Hughes, inventor of the Typograph for the blind. While he was the Director of Henshaws Blind Asylum in the mid-1800's, he invented a typewriter for the visually impaired and blind which won a gold medal at the 1851 Great Exhibition at Crystal Palace in London. It is arguably the first ever typewriting machine.

The audio tour brings us to the next section of the exhibition which is focused around the five most common eye conditions causing blindness in the UK, as well as showcasing treatments and tools used by Doctors of the past to treat these conditions.

Common Eye Conditions

The common eye conditions include Cataracts, Diabetic Retinopathy, Age-related Macular Degeneration, Retinitis Pigmentosa and Glaucoma. The PENfriends in this area describe the conditions in more detail and the problems that they cause.

The display cases in this section contain tools used by Doctors of the past to help treat these conditions. Items include model eye balls to study the anatomy of the eye, Optometry testing equipment, hand-painted prosthetic glass eyes, a glass eye bath, an eye scalpel set, Weiss cataract instruments, a Giles Archer colour unit, glasses with extra mounted lenses and horn-rimmed brass framed glasses; all by kind permission of the Thackray Medical Museum in Leeds and the Manchester Royal Eye Hospital.

Hand-painted prosthetic glass eyes

The final portion of the exhibition spotlights how blindness and visual impairment affects people; both those living with their sight condition and the people around them. Opening up this section is my illustration, Elephant in the Room, created specially for the exhibition. It incorporates the theme of how the public react to visual impairment. You can read more about my illustration and the meaning behind it here.

My illustration with Braille and print biography
and description of the piece

Standing proudly with my illustration

I especially loved Anne's audio description of my illustration. She goes into great detail about the colours and mediums I used and the symbols surrounding the piece. She also reads my biography and the meaning behind my artwork.

Next to my illustration is a display cabinet of items relating and 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 in a statuette not long after his death.

Display case commemorating Blind Joe

The display case contains aforementioned statuette, as well as Joseph's bell that he used when employed as a town crier giving the news to those who could not afford a newspaper or could not read, as well as his favourite cup.

Model of the Henshaws Blind Asylum, 1857

A stone model, contained in a glass case, represents the Henshaws Blind Asylum previously located on Chester Road, in Old Trafford. It housed the blind as well as providing a school for the 'deaf and dumb'. It was demolished in 1971 when the college was relocated to Harrogate.

The model is followed by a timeline of the history of Henshaws and major events and achievements within the visually impaired world, such as; the invention of Braille shorthand in 1899, Henshaws Blind Asylum changing its name to Henshaws Institute for the Blind in 1921 and finally Henshaws Society for Blind People in 2000, showing the changing attitudes of the public, Germans training German Shepherds, Dobermans and Airedale Terriers to lead their war-blinded soldiers in 1921, the British Wireless for the Blind Fund being set up to provide a free radio to every blind person in the country in 1929, and Henshaws celebrating its 175th birthday in 2012.

Henshaws and visual impairment timeline

To the right-hand side of the timeline is a model representation of a Napoleonic Soldier. Many lost their sight during this War, and subsequent ones too, fighting for their country. They would return home to poverty with no help from the Welfare State and would be left begging for themselves and their families. They would continue to wear their uniforms out of respect for their country and as a badge of honour.

Concluding the exhibition is a separate audio section with interviews from four service users of Henshaws. They describe how their lives were previous to their visual impairment and how Henshaws has greatly benefitted their confidence, independence and skills through the various service, support and social groups that they provide.

I had a wonderful time visiting the One Man's Vision exhibition using the audio tour and tactile lines to make my way independently around all of the exhibits. I learned many new things that I didn't know before including some of the adaptive types of tactile writing for visually impaired and blind people, the story of Thomas Henshaw and his Will, and the history of blind societies in my local area.

It was extremely fascinating and I would urge anyone to visit this interesting and completely accessible exhibition.

Image Gallery

Here is a gallery of all the photos I took whilst visiting the One Man's Vision exhibition. Click on the thumbnails to enlarge.


There are a number of workshops and talks planned in the near future relating to the One Man's Vision exhibition. Feel free to come along and enjoy artist-led sensory workshops, inviting you to be creative without vision!

Saturday, 18th October: Drawing Workshop
Saturday, 25th October: Mystery objects
Tuesday, 28th October - Friday, 31st October: Create tactile and sensory artworks with artist Hannah Cawthorne
Saturday, 1st November: Create tactile and sensory artworks with artist Hannah Cawthorne
Saturday, 22nd November: Special tour by the exhibition's curator Laura Wigg-Bailey

The One Man's Vision exhibition is open until January 18th, 2015. Visit the official website for further information, events and blog posts.

You can view all of my previous posts regarding my involvement with the installation of the exhibition, as well as creating a special illustration to be displayed alongside the items and objects of interest, by clicking here.