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Jun 1, 201610:13 AMCulture

Fun and Culture in the Mid-State

Art’s Festival: A Blind Potter’s Vision Completed

Jun 1, 2016 - 10:13 AM
Art’s Festival: A Blind Potter’s Vision Completed

Photography by Daulton J. Leonard

Mike Grove, graduate of Harrisburg Area Community College and potter, displays his work at ArtsFest on Saturday, May 28.

The creative interaction between hands and mind is one of the most beauteous of human capability. This unique talent to conceptualize a vision and subsequently produce that idea is miraculous. The hands of a sculptor work with the mind’s eye, and this has never been more evident than with sixty-five year old, Michael Grove.

Grove’s talent as a sculptor was unearthed in a ceramics class at Harrisburg Area Community College (HACC) in 2013 as a prescribed free art elective mandated by HACC’s general education requirement. Grove would graduate from HACC with degrees in computer repair and technical report specialist. He is continuing his education at Bloomsburg University to receive a master’s degree in technical repair leadership, but the artist was happy to put creation back in his life after multiple power outages plagued his outlets.

“I was born premature as a twin, but the twin did not make it. At that point in time in the fifties, they put you in pure oxygen [to survive]. That caused the retina behind my eye to never grow. The eye[ball] grows normally but stretches the retina, and eventually [the retina] tears loose,” said Grove.

This happened to Grove during his seventh grade year, leaving him completely blind in his left eye. Grove still excelled with his artwork through his years at Cumberland Valley High School.

“I loved the arts. I got into painting and drawing; no sculpture. In fact, when I tried to play with clay when they had it in high school I think I made an ashtray, and it wasn’t very good. At that time I could sit down and sketch a picture of whoever was sitting in front of me. I sold some pictures and paintings when I moved to Nashville after high school,” said Grove.                

As the 1970s bloomed, so did Grove. By his graduation in 1970, his sight had worsened enough that he could no longer do his sketch art as easily. Letting his roots sprawl, Grove nurtured a love for country music.

“I went to Nashville to grow up, to spread my wings, to get out of the house. I was into country music at the time, and I used to hang around the back stage door of the Johnny Cash Show [shot live in Nashville, Tennessee] to meet the stars, and grab autographs. I somehow got hired to go in and push the stage around; so for about a year I worked for the Johnny Cash Show,” said Grove as he smiled.

During the day, Grove would work as a short order cook; during the night he would push around the set for the show. Grove returned to the Mechanicsburg area in 1972, and found himself working at Giant and odd jobs in the restaurant industry. As he worked odd jobs to survive, he taught himself to play guitar by ear from the radio. He was learning fast, but his guitar education would soon receive tempo.

“I wanted to play country music. I wanted to play guitar. I met a guy, who is probably dead now, named Tex Kenyon who was in his fifties when I met him. He was a country music artist who did little shows here and there with his wife Ginger. Tex had talent, but he was an alcoholic who was supposedly not drinking when I met him,” said Grove shaking his head.

The whiskey-blooded Kenyon took the eager grove under his teaching; showing Grove how to play and perform with the guitar. Kenyon would play the older country music; Grove had taught himself to play the newer country music from listening to the radio. The duo lasted a few years playing in Pittsburgh, but their demise was met at the bottom of the empty whiskey handles the housed liquid darker than the rivers of the town itself.

Grove had made sure to keep connections to life rafts in case the turbulent life of a musician hit a sour note. He had been involved with Blindness and Visual services in Pittsburgh, and he even attended a semester at Allegheny Community College. Blindness and Visual Services helped Grove to learn the more advanced ropes of the restaurant business.

For twenty years Grove would work in the food industry off-and-on while playing music, and in 1985 Grove began working at Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT). Grove would work there for thirteen years and then retire in 1998. Upon retirement, he found himself having more and more trouble doing the things he used to love like woodworking.

“Woodworking was something I learned in high school, and it was something that I loved doing. Someone had given me a joiner that they bought at an auction. I was testing it out to see how it worked, and it got jammed. I shut the machine off, readjusted some things, and I ran a piece through again. I reached down to take a hold of the other end, and the other end wasn’t there. I stuck my hand right in the blade,” Grove said with a grimace.

What cut Mike deeper was the realization that without that tip of his finger, he could no longer play his music. He had lost another creative outlet, and he was feeling upset with the lack of ability to create art, cultivate music, or provide for himself.

“When I lost my sight, I lost my ability to sketch and paint. When I lost my finger, I lost my ability to play my music. With the loss of creativity I had lost the ability to live for myself. I was always very self sufficient, so I decided to go back to school,” said Grove.

Because of HACC’s requirements for an art, Grove was almost forced to take ceramics. His vision impaired him to see to perform any other art. Past experience at Cumberland Valley left Grove feeling unsure of his life in ceramics.

“I wasn’t thrilled about taking ceramics. But on the first day, I just started to play with the clay, and suddenly I thought, ‘Oh! That’s what you want to be? Alright,’ and I made an apple,” said Grove smiling.   

Grove, with wiser hands at sixty-two, found an ability that he did not have at sixteen. He soon became mystified with the possibilities that clay holds. With all that Grove had lost, he had once again found his creative outlet.

“I like clay because it moves to your slightest touch, and it will translate what you are not consciously thinking about. It has a memory, and clay remembers what you do to it. There is no limit with clay,” says Grove.

Grove’s work has a keen ability to capture the subtleties of nature that the eye misses. He has also been working on mythical creatures, such as dragons. Mike has received many requests for sale, and Grove has a vision to open and operate his own gallery for sale purposes. Grove has regained his self-sufficiency, as well. He breathes life to visions that were before fathoms.

Now, this blind sculptor has once again found vision. A man of the soil turned to the very clay of earth to find his happiness, and to support himself. Mike Grove is a man who proves that limits are imaginative figments. He is a man who went blind, but, of himself, never lost sight.


For information on Mike’s art please contact blindmikespottery@comcast.net

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