Blind painter inspires disabled artists


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Ketra Oberlander first picked up a paintbrush at the age of forty. That is about the same time she became legally blind due to severe myopia and a condition called cone dystrophy.

"It's sort of like staring at the sun with with Vaseline on your glasses. I have a very soft-focus world," she said.

In the world of art, Ketra has an almost impressionistic style. Without a magnifying glass she cannot see details, so her favorite subjects have a softness.

Sue Lucas is an avid art collector whose home looks more like a museum. She has two of Ketra's pieces.

"She's an inspiration because there she is, missing one of her senses, and you'd never know it. She's quite a woman," Lucas said.

Ketra found that her disability made logistics difficult to get around and show her art. But, her loss of sight gave her a new vision. She wanted to help other artists with physical disabilities by licensing and promoting their work.

Last year, Ketra launched her business called the Art of Possibility Studios. She is starting out small, representing herself and four other artists across the country all overcoming physical challenges.

Jen Norton is a fellow artist helping Ketra come up with ideas that transform her clients' talents into products that are commercially viable. For instance, Ketra's painting of a dragonfly could become a line of kitchen towels and potholders. Or, the abstract designs of Geroge Mendoza, who is also blind, could work as a plate pattern.

"People really respond to it well," said she said. "So, I think buyers are really going to connect to that and say, "Yeah, I want to buy that plate set. Not just because I love it and it looks good, and it would match my décor, but wow… I am going to help somebody by buying it.'"

When a licensed image is used, say Ketra's chocolates on a tapestry, the artist receives between four and eight percent of the sales price. The merchandise royalty may not seem like a lot but it can mean the difference between being a starving artist and financial independence.

Preston Metcalf is art curator at the Triton Museum of Art in Santa Clara.

"A lot of artists are uncomfortable promoting their own work, or unfamiliar with the avenues of business. Ketra does it all and she does it well," he said.

Bookmarks that used artwork licensed through Art of Possibility Studios generated the company's first royalty checks earlier this year. They also brought Ketra the joy of being a social entrepenuer, someone who is doing good and making a living.

"It felt so right, like yeah, this is what I am supposed to be doing right now," she said.

In an economy where every dollar counts, Ketra Oberlander is hoping more manufacturers and consumers make choices that make a difference.

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