Artist Michael Naranjo is a blind sculptor of Pueblo Indian heritage who turned to sculpture after losing his sight in the Vietnam War.
Blind Pueblo Artist Michael Naranjo Makes Sculptures
ANN CURRY, co-host:
Today's AMERICAN STORY WITH BOB DOTSON comes from Santa Fe, New Mexico, where Bob found a man who is totally blind who sees more clearly than most.
BOB DOTSON reporting:
What must it be like for an artist to create from a canvas he can no longer see? Michael Naranjo has been blind for nearly 40 years. The Indian dancers of his boyhood are fading memories. But look around Santa Fe and you'll find them, dozens of them, vivid shadows of his Indian heritage.
Mr. MICHAEL NARANJO: I live in a sheltered world, in a way, where I see all the beauty.
DOTSON: Naranjo grew up in a pueblo north of Santa Fe. His mom a famous Potter, he, a promising painter until the Vietnam War. The last thing he saw before he lost his sight was the Vietcong soldier who nearly killed him.
Mr. NARANJO: We looked at each other, just looked at each other, into each others' eyes.
DOTSON: What happened?
Mr. NARANJO: I shot.
DOTSON: And what did he do?
Mr. NARANJO: I felt a hand grenade, and I started to turn towards it, and it exploded.
DOTSON: Locked in the darkness of his mind, Naranjo asked for a bit of clay to help pass the long hours in an Army hospital. With his one good hand, he made an inch worm, then had a bigger vision. When we first met three decades ago, he was building a 12-foot statue all by touch.
Mr. NARANJO: What did I work? I work with these three fingers.
DOTSON: And a right hand withered after his war wounds.
Mr. NARANJO: I knew it was going to be difficult to create with one hand.
DOTSON: But he was determined to learn.
Mr. NARANJO: I could see farther into the stone. I could see inside when before I felt the surface.
DOTSON: So his work got better. Soon, he was invited to present pieces to the White House, and the Vatican. Today, his sculptures sell for as much as $100,000. But one part is always missing. None of his human figures have eyes.
Mr. NARANJO: If I was blind, they were going to be blind.
DOTSON: Naranjo dreamed that one day we would all view his work as he does: with our hands. So over the years he kept a copy of most everything he made. This summer, his dream, no, his vision, came true: a new touching museum in a building on the grounds of the New Mexico state capital in Santa Fe.
Mr. NARANJO: What she's carrying on the top of her head is a vase of water.
Unidentified Boy: You make good sculptures. They're cool.
Mr. NARANJO: Thank you very much.
Boy: They're better than the ones I see.
DOTSON: After a lifetime of blindness, Michael Naranjo knows we can tell more from a touch than a glance. He has never seen his wife, Laurie, nor his two daughters. But…
Mr. NARANJO: I really don't think I would take sight over the life that I have today. I definitely would not.
DOTSON: It's amazing what an artist can see when he can't see. For TODAY, Bob Dotson, NBC News, with an AMERICAN STORY in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Activity 1. Trust Activity: Pair up students. Have partners take turns wearing a blindfold while the sighted partner leads the sightless partner on a walk. Students learn to face the challenge of being without sight and to trust their partner.
Activity 2. Create a Touching Museum: Place objects that can be touched by students. While wearing a blindfold, have students try to determine an object by the size, shape, texture, and smell.
Activity 3. Invite a guest who is blind to talk about their disability with the class. Ask that the talk would include how they have overcome the disability to lead a successful life.