Share This Page

Artist's visionary works defy blindness

| Tuesday, Dec. 24, 2013, 9:36 p.m.
“The artistic offerings of Maxine Niehoff, who is legally blind.”
“The artistic offerings of Maxine Niehoff, who is legally blind.”

It's difficult not to marvel over the special Christmas presents Maxine Niehoff will give today to her three adult children.

The watercolor scenes are the product of Niehoff's growing passion for a pastime the senior citizen took up barely six months ago. What makes them remarkable is not their high quality despite her relative inexperience at painting.

What makes them remarkable is the fact that she has been legally blind for the past five years.

Niehoff, 78, suffers from macular degeneration, the leading cause of central vision loss among older people. The affliction affects the macula, the part of the eye that allows people to see fine detail.

Yet fine details and subtle shadings are evident in her pictures of sailboats on the water, rustic rural settings and flowers in full bloom in fields.

How does she do it? Her offspring are uncertain.

“She must rely on her peripheral vision,” said daughter Janet Laughlin of Monroeville. “My brother teases her that this blindness thing must be an act.”

Niehoff, a resident of the St. Barnabas Retirement Village in Richland, credits her painting skills to her ability to still make out colors.

“If I close my eyes and envision what I want it to look like, then I can put it down on paper,” she said. “I'm anything but perfect, but it's fun to see what you can try to do.”

Niehoff started taking charcoal drawing classes, then watercolor, as a means to stay busy at St. Barnabas. The former dance class instructor determined that the exercise classes she teaches in the retirement community three times a week weren't keeping her active enough.

“There's just a group of four or five of us, and we just spend an hour and a half together and paint and talk some,” Niehoff said. “It's a lot of fun.”

Niehoff has been prolific enough with her painting that she had three wooden shelves installed in her living room to display them. The exhibit is not open to the public, but Niehoff's friends and family were treated to a holiday scene she painted that was reprinted on the Christmas cards they received.

Niehoff is obliging her children's request to receive a painting for Christmas.

“But I haven't told them which ones they're getting,” she said. “I've been keeping that a secret.”

No matter what they receive from their legally blind mother who didn't pick up a paintbrush until the summer, this is one Christmas likely to linger long in the memories of Laughlin and her siblings.

Eric Heyl is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7857 or eheyl@tribweb.com.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.