Mary Dignan makes mosaics. It's her passion, practically a way of life. Through her art, she can express who she is and what she is.
She breaks things, picks up the pieces, re- arranges them and creates pictures and scenes full of colors and textures.
Pete Eckert takes photographs. He sets up his cameras, takes account of the light, the objects, the feel of the room, even the sounds around him, and then he makes a picture. Sometimes the process takes hours for a single image.
Dignan, 57, and Eckert, 55, both legally blind, hope to share their work with the sighted community while making a broader statement about the often-fractured blind one.
Their works are part of a fundraising exhibit, "Visions II: Art by Blind Artists," Thursday at the Arden Hills Resort Club and Spa.
Dignan and Eckert suffered loss of sight over many years due to a degenerative disease called retinitis pigmentosa. Their field of vision narrowed until it was like looking through a keyhole, then a pinhole, then, for Eckert, total darkness. Dignan is not far behind she can see shapes and shadows and certain colors, but she essentially looks at her art with her hands, running her fingers over the shards of old plates and vases and colored glass, over beads and baubles and trinkets of all kinds.
Asked to describe her visitor during a recent interview at the Land Park home she shares with her husband, Andy Rosten, Dignan said with a chuckle, "You are pretty much a blob."
Her guide dog?
"He's a blob, too."
"The more skilled I got with the mosaics, the more detailed I got," she said. "The blinder I got, the more textured the mosaics got."
Dignan, who says she will lose herself in her work for blocks of eight or even 12 hours at a time at her home studio, calls the process therapeutic.
"It's a gift for myself, through myself, for others," she said. Her mosaics sell for $500 to $1,200, depending on size and complexity.
Like life, the art doesn't always go smoothly or come readily. Art itself is often inspired by gloom and a remedy for it.
As her world became darker and her vision declined, Dignan, who worked for years as a lawyer, was occasionally saddled with grief as she battled to remain vibrant, or even relevant.
Referring to one of her mosaics, Dignan said, "It was one of those pieces where I had to force myself to do it. I was going through a difficult time. The lesson was that with discipline, you can do something and eventually I can drag myself out of the slough."
Asked about the exhibit and the message she has for those who see her work, Dignan said, "Blind artists are, first of all, artists. They're good artists. They have been able to incorporate what blindness has done to their lives in a transformative way.
"It's a story of survival and persistence, but also a story of thriving."
Eckert knows a thing or two about that. While many blind people are reluctant or afraid to venture out into the world especially into the workplace Eckert relies on his photography to keep him going.
"Life is short," he said, sitting in the midtown home he shares with his wife, Amy. "At a certain point, you have to make the decision to go on or not. It would be easy to sit down and go away. I chose to put all of my chips down and go survive, succeed, stay married."
The message about being blind is neither unified nor simple, he said.
"The blind community, we're a fractured community," he said. "It's not the sighted community's fault that we're hard to decipher."
Eckert's photos are unlike anything most art patrons will ever encounter they're dark and edgy, and sometimes disturbing, full of power and off-kilter energy from the light and shadows.
Eckert said he has no vision left whatsoever, that he creates his photos by relying on his memory, his intuition, his emotions, the surrounding sounds and what he knows about using light and time. All of it goes into setting up a shot and making a picture and it can often take five hours or more.
When he uses models, they can be thrown off at first, or even alarmed, as they are instructed to pose in a dark studio for so long.
He plans obsessively. He relies on what he calls "pre-visulation." When the photo is finished, he asks for feedback from sighted people before making large and costly prints. The piece of art he eventually shows and then sells? He cannot see it. What really motivates him is creating it, not having it.
"There's the event, and there's the product," he said with a shrug. "I could completely discard the product if I wanted to."
Those who admire his work have paid up to $2,800 for a large-format photograph. Most of his photographs sell for about $500.
Two other blind artists will have work at the exhibition: Bruce Hall of Irvine, who is known for his underwater photography, and John Bramblitt of Dallas, who did not begin painting until he lost his sight in 2001.
VISIONS II: ART BY BLIND ARTISTS
What: A fundraiser for the Foundation Fighting Blindness, organized by the Sacramento chapter.
When: 6-9 p.m. Thursday
Where: Arden Hills Resort Club and Spa, 1220 Arden Hills Lane, Sacramento
Information: www.fightblindness.org/ SacramentoVisions