Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Wadsworth exhibition celebrates co-founder of American School for the Deaf

Wadsworth exhibition celebrates co-founder of American School for the Deaf

The American School for the Deaf and the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art collaborated to create an installation celebrating Laurent Clerc titled “Connections Gallery: American School for the Deaf,” which will be on view through June 6.

Clerc is a prominent figure in the history of deaf culture and Hartford. Clerc came to America from France in 1816 to help co-found the American School for the Deaf in Hartford, the oldest school for the deaf in the United States. The founding of the school began in Hartford in 1814 when Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, a recent Yale graduate and clergyman, met the Dr. Mason Fitch Cogswell family and their deaf daughter, Alice. Cogswell and 10 prominent citizens, including the Wadsworth’s founder Daniel Wadsworth, decided there was a great need for an American school for the deaf. In a short time, sufficient funds were raised to send Gallaudet to Europe to study the methods of teaching the deaf.

Embarking on a voyage to Europe to learn the art of educating deaf children, Gallaudet encountered the work of l’Institut National de Jeunes Sourds de Paris, the world’s first free school for the deaf. He then enlisted Clerc to join him in an historic journey to establish the first permanent school for the deaf in the United States. On April 15, 1817, The Connecticut Asylum for the Education and Instruction of Deaf and Dumb Persons opened with seven students in Bennett’s City Hotel at Main and Gold Streets in Hartford.

The portraits of Laurent and Eliza Boardman Clerc by Charles Willson Peale are the inspiration for this exhibition and the video “Portrait of a Community: American School for the Deaf.”

“The Peale portraits are important to the deaf community,” said Gary E. Wait, American School for the Deaf archivist, “because they are one of the first examples of a deaf person signing. In the portrait of Eliza, she is signing the letter ‘E’ for the first initial of her name.”

This Connections Gallery is presented in conjunction with the Wadsworth Atheneum’s exhibition “Reunited Masterpieces: From Adam and Eve to George and Martha.”

Guests can visit the museum Thursday, May 27, at noon for free, and can join a docent for a closer look at portraits of Clerc.