Deaf Artist Chuck Baird Builds a Collaborative Art Relationship with MSSD Students
Chuck Baird, a well-known Deaf artist and one of the founders of the De'VIA (Deaf View/Image Art) movement, came to the Model Secondary School for the Deaf (MSSD) as an artist-in-residence last fall. Baird's artwork infuses American Sign Language (ASL) in the iconography of his paintings and drawings. His mission was to create new large scale artwork for MSSD, involving the students in their design and production.
When Baird arrived at MSSD, he was presented with a challenge. In front of the school and in a courtyard at the back were a cluster of worn wooden sculptures installed at the time of the school's opening in 1977. MSSD principal Mindi Failing asked Baird if he could give the sculpture some new life. Baird was at first reluctant to make over someone else's work. "First thing when I got there, I went straight to see them. I fell in love with the look of the wood-how it was naturally aged and weathered. It had a rich texture."
Baird began a dialogue with the MSSD students for ideas on enlivening the sculptures. "One student suggested putting Mexican-style tiles for a wood-like mosaic; however, I felt that perhaps I should try to think of something to push the envelope. That was how the idea came to me of molding the students' own handshapes for the installation art project," said Baird.
The students worked with Baird and Clerc Center art teacher Philip Bogdan on molding, painting, and mounting ASL alphabet handshapes onto round plaques. The individually molded shapes, painted in jewel-like colors, reflect the fine details of each artist's hand. Once the handshapes were completed, they were affixed to the existing wooden sculpture. The new artwork is entitled ASL Pride.
"I felt the back [courtyard fountain] of MSSD was proper for the project because the environment around there is a Zen-like space. Art installation should be in a sanctuary-like place. The front entrance of MSSD is too busy; people are walking back and forth in a hurry or preoccupied with something," said Baird.
Time was running out for Baird's residency, and nothing had been done to enhance the sculpture in front of the school. "I surprised everyone on my last day of residency. I decorated the wooden sculptures with gold rings. It was a spur-of-the-moment creative solution to uplift the careworn structures. I hope passersby will be delighted to see them, simple yet beautiful. ... A ripple effect, echo, or rings of cooperation, or anything they can interpret for themselves."
Baird generously shared his time and talent with the Clerc Center community. "It was my pleasure to make an educational challenge for the students and staff and to involve them in the process of creating a work of art. My hope is that something crystallized in each soul and memory from our learning about what the collaborative art experience can bring."
The Clerc Center and MSSD administrators, teachers, and staff would like to express their deep appreciation to Chuck Baird for sharing his artistic vision with our students and inspiring the creation of artwork that reflects the richness of Deaf culture.