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‘The Feels’ at Chase Gallery: Please do touch the art

Touching art at galleries typically is a big no-no. But what if a show broke the rules and asked audiences to touch and feel the pieces?

That’s the bold request by the artists behind “The Feels,” a show opening Mondayat the Chase Gallery, in the lower level of Spokane City Hall. Six local and regional artists – sculptors Theresa Henson, Bill Dilley, Michael Haynes and Chris Tyllia, along with collage and fabric artist Eva Silverstone and dollmaker Dan McCann – will exhibit pieces for art-goers to experience through the sense of touch as well as sight.

“I have never been asked to participate in an exhibition where they ask people to touch the work, but I think it’s brilliant,” said Henson, who is bringing three large sculptures to show in Spokane. “I have long felt that people should be able to touch the work, especially sculpture, (because for) sculptors, it’s all about touch as well as the visual experience.”

Henson, who works in Cottonwood, Idaho, as creative services director for St. Gertrude’s Monastery, will show a piece called “Touchable.” The piece is an alluring carved cypress that echoes the rounded, smooth roots of a cypress tree. When Henson first exhibited “Touchable” 10 years ago at the West Edge Sculpture Exhibition at Benaroya Hall in Seattle, the Seattle Times praised it as one of the best pieces in that show, calling it “magnetic, a thing-in-itself that generates its own buzz.”

At receptions and openings, Henson is often asked by patrons if they can touch her works. She always gives an enthusiastic thumbs up.

“Making the work is very much about touch, so with this show, I get to sort of share that experience that I have with the viewers,” Henson said. “Or shall we call them ‘touchers?’ ”

Dilley echoed Henson’s sentiment. “While creating sculpture, I touch and feel every nook and cranny,” he said in a news release. “I want someone else to feel my work in this way, the spaces and textures.”

Dilley is a highly sought after sculptor and painter in Western Washington known for his bronze cast techniques. Dilley plans to donate 10 percent of any sales at the Chase to Spokane’s Lilac Services for the Blind.

The impetus for “The Feels” exhibition is to give art-goers the opportunity to know the artwork on nearly the same level as the artist, said the show’s curator Ellen Picken, until recently program director at Spokane Arts. (She left the arts non-profit to pursue her own art and production business.)

Curating the show has been a challenge, Picken said. “Approach with your heart and your hands, not your eyes,” she said. “I had to get over the idea that this should look like a typical gallery exhibition … It’s going to be arranged by how you physically experience it rather than how it looks.”

The exhibit is just one of several stops on Spokane Arts’ bi-annual Visual Arts Tour kicking off Friday. Go to www.spokanearts.org to create your own personal mini-Visual Arts Tours, which may include several galleries staying open throughout the weekend.

This story has been updated to reflect that artist Bill Dilley is not visually impaired.


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