Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

`Please Touch' This Exhibit

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

`Please Touch' This Exhibit

Article excerpt

IT SOUNDS absolutely nutty to visit a sculpture exhibit with your eyes closed, but that is exactly what Willa Shalit suggests. She made the face masks of celebrities in the current exhibit at Jefferson College in Hillsboro. She molded her "lifemasks" directly from the faces of her subjects.

Running your hands over the faces in her exhibit - with eyes closed - you "see" differently. Shalit's faces have bony bumps on brows, pits in the chins, folds in their bulbous noses, and other textures and lines that many faces eventually acquire from sun, wind, illness, life's emotional ravages and gravity's downward pull.

It can be revealing, especially when you don't realize whose mask you are touching.

"I didn't know it was (President Richard M.) Nixon's face when I felt it, but I felt sadness, weariness, stress, and when you look at it afterward, you can almost see his anguish," said Robert Brophy, director of food services at Jefferson College. Twenty years ago, students petitioned the board to name the college cafeteria Brophy's Place for its popular foodmeister. He is legally blind.

Shalit calls her show "Please Touch." The show, which includes 74 objects and runs through April 27, has been on the road since 1986, when it opened at New York's Lighthouse for the Blind. Since then it has attracted support from many organizations for the visually impaired.

The show features an audio tape for the visually impaired. And all signs are in braille as well as in print.

Melanie Madson, who paints portraits in watercolor, installed the show. With Brophy's help, she raised money to bring the show to the college. It is the only community college on the show's national tour and the biggest show ever mounted at Jefferson College.

Shalit, 37, an artist-in-residence at the College of Santa Fe, grew up in New York. Her father is NBC's "Today" movie critic, Gene Shalit. …

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