March 2020:

“This means so much because for years he was turned away from so many museums. He wasn’t able to touch or interact with artwork anywhere we went,” said Laurie Naranjo. Her husband, Michael Naranjo, is a renowned Native American sculptor who became a professional artist after losing his sight and permanently damaging his right hand – injuries he suffered as a 23-year-old U.S. Army soldier serving in the Vietnam War.

At 75, he works from his studio in Santa Clara Pueblo, New Mexico. His work is in museums across the United States and in collections at the White House and the Vatican. In January, a temporary exhibition opened at The Eiteljorg Museum in Indianapolis displaying more than 30 of his bronze sculptures that depict a range of animals, human figures and mythical creatures.

The ideas for Naranjo’s artwork come mostly from his memories. He works with wax, sculpting by feel with his left hand before casting them in bronze. Each piece is intended to be touched and experienced through the nuances in detail, shapes and textures.

This multi-sensory exhibition, Please Touch! The Sculptures of Michael Naranjo, coincides with No Limits Arts Series, a project led by students from the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (ISBVI). Funded with a grant to Indiana Blind Children’s Foundation as part of Lilly Endowment Strengthening Indianapolis Through Arts and Cultural Innovation initiative, No Limits aims to strengthen inclusiveness in the arts for individuals with disabilities. The project includes collaboration with Indianapolis-based arts organizations. In addition to The Eiteljorg, collaborators include ArtMix, Capital City Chorus, Dance Kaleidoscope, Heartland Film and Phoenix Theatre.

An ISBVI student leadership club worked alongside the museum’s staff on the exhibition’s Braille labels, audio descriptions and a design for wheelchair accessibility. After the opening, Naranjo led students on a private tour of the exhibition and he spent a week at the school helping students explore their artistic abilities by creating clay busts.

“It makes me feel like I could do anything,” said an ISBVI student.

When asked what advice Naranjo would give to students interested in art, he said, “Do what you want to do. There’s no right and no wrong. Everyone has their own style. You just need to take your time and stick with it. You have to follow your passions.”

Please Touch! The Sculptures of Michael Naranjo is open at The Eiteljorg Museum through July 26, 2020.

This exhibition is sponsored by:
Indiana Blind Children’s Foundation, Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, No Limits Arts Series, BOSMA Enterprises, Care Institute Group, Inc. and Lilly Endowment Inc.

Watch a trailer of a documentary in production about Naranjo’s life and work.

Learn more about the Endowment’s Strengthening Indianapolis Through Arts and Cultural Innovation initiative.

Watch a video about the No Limits Arts Series.