Visual Arts » 2D

Blind Ambition

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Barbara Mangus-Hopkins has been creating works of art since she was a young girl, but she says for most of her professional art career she has barely made a decent living. That is, until she started losing her eyesight.

“I am making more money now that I’m blind than I ever have in my life,” says Mangus-Hopkins, who has Type I diabetes and began losing her sight about 10 years ago. “I have more commissions now than ever. It takes a lot out of me, but I love it and I won’t stop.”

Some days are better than others.

Painter Barbara Mangus-Hopkins, who is legally blind, poses next to one of the many watercolor paintings she has created throughout her career.  - PHOTO BY SHELBY ROBY-TERRY
  • Photo by Shelby Roby-Terry
  • Painter Barbara Mangus-Hopkins, who is legally blind, poses next to one of the many watercolor paintings she has created throughout her career.

There are times when she can’t see her own hands or make out the difference between the yolk and white of an egg. Because she is legally blind, Mangus-Hopkins relies on her husband, other family members and friends to drive her to client meetings and exhibits where her works are on display. She also uses a cane that she dislikes but tolerates, because she added her own twist to it.

“Everything that I have is bedazzled. If I’m going to have to have it, it’s going to be beautiful,” says Mangus-Hopkins about the cane she decorated using multi-colored rhinestones.

Through it all, she hasn’t let her lack of vision stop her from creating the art that she loves.

Her watercolors have been on exhibit at the Columbia Club and galleries throughout the city and state. She designed one of the many replica Indy 500 cars through the 500 Festival’s Art in Motion exhibit, and creates commissioned work for Purdue University’s Veterinary School in West Lafayette. She’s also one of more than 40 artists whose works are on display inside the Art Bank, a former bank turned art gallery on Mass Ave. Every First Friday, Mangus-Hopkins mingles with art lovers inside the Art Bank to talk about her work and support the other artists inside.

As her sight has worsened over the past three years (doctor’s say she won’t lose all of her vision), she uses modern technology to create her commissioned pieces.

When creating a new painting, Mangus-Hopskins begins with a pencil sketch and then adds the watercolors, which she later traces in pen for sharper details.  - PHOTO BY SHELBY ROBY-TERRY
  • Photo by Shelby Roby-Terry
  • When creating a new painting, Mangus-Hopskins begins with a pencil sketch and then adds the watercolors, which she later traces in pen for sharper details.

Mangus-Hopkins often works at her kitchen table, where the light is best, to first draw her images using pencil, then watercolor, followed by ink. “The ink just sort of evens up things, makes it a little bit better because it gives definition to everything.”

She jokes that she uses lots of eraser before adding any color to her drawings.

“Watercolors are effervescent and fast,” she says. “Once you put a brushstroke down, it’s there.”

It takes her about a week to create a painting.

To help her see the images she’s creating, Mangus-Hopkins takes pictures of the objects (houses, gardens, monuments, landmarks and churches) and prints them in black and white, not color.

“I don’t usually use color prints to work off of because it’s better in black and white. You can see grays and different tones better,” she says.

Once printed, she places the image under a magnifying camera attached to her DaVinci monitor. The high-definition machine, which she purchased while a student at Bosma Enterprises, helps her see the smallest details.

"It magnifies and changes the color. It’s fabulous; I use it for everything. It also speaks in three languages, so now I have to learn two more languages so I can use the machine,” jokes Mangus-Hopkins, who has a spunk and sense of humor that has served her well throughout life.

This process is how she created the watercolor paintings of the houses on this year’s 42nd annual Meridian-Kessler Home Tour, which was held in June.

The paintings were signed by Mangus-Hopkins and given to the homeowners as a keepsake. Smaller images were included in the program books for the tour.

In fact, for that past few years, re-creating images of people’s houses is the bulk of the commissioned work she has been paid to do.

“Everybody wants (paintings) of their homes,” she says, adding that she’s done seven for one customer of the houses he has owned.

Mangus-Hopkins uses the same equipment as other painters, but with the addition of a special lighted magnification tool. - PHOTO BY SHELBY ROBY-TERRY
  • Photo by Shelby Roby-Terry
  • Mangus-Hopkins uses the same equipment as other painters, but with the addition of a special lighted magnification tool.

Since losing her sight, Mangus-Hopkins says the main difference is that she now spends more time at her own home. But it’s where she creates her commissioned work and surrounds herself with lots of paintings of water and boating scenes and several framed works that once graced the walls of Laughner’s Cafeteria, all of which she created.

“I created the art for all of the restaurants, and bought back 15 of them when they closed Laughner’s, because they were beautifully framed,” says Mangus-Hopkins, pointing to the ornate frames around the paintings that she keeps inside a spare bedroom.

In addition to her watercolors, she works for a couple of podiatrists painting orthopedic shoes, and also uses her artistic skills to add designs to purses.

Views through one of two magnifiers give Mangus-Hopkins the perspective she needs to render the fine details in her works. - PHOTO BY SHELBY ROBY-TERRY
  • Photo by Shelby Roby-Terry
  • Views through one of two magnifiers give Mangus-Hopkins the perspective she needs to render the fine details in her works.

Her take-charge attitude started as a little girl.

Mangus-Hopkins recalls at age 5 asking her parents to draw something for her. She said her father, who was an engineer, squared everything off in his picture. Her mother’s was “all frilly.”

“I can still see (my mother’s) picture of a little girl with curls everywhere, but it didn’t look like a little girl at all, so I said, ‘OK, I’ll draw it,’” says Mangus-Hopkins. The mostly self-taught artist — she grew up on the city’s Eastside, not too far from Irvington — attended John Herron Art Institute (now Herron School of Art and Design) but didn’t graduate.

“I was too busy having babies [to graduate],” she says. “You know, in those days, they thought that was what you were supposed to do.”

As a young girl, she remembers winning the annual Irvington Halloween art contest, and being encouraged to continue her art by one of her teachers. Though she lived in Howe’s district, her father sent her to Tech High School, because they had a good art program.

She now believes he sent her there [all of her siblings attended Howe] because she was hanging with the wrong crowd. “I have always been mischievous and in trouble, which now, what a life I have lived,” she says, laughing.

She also spent lots of time in her room growing up — often a punishment for “getting in trouble for one thing or another.” The time alone didn’t bother her as much as it would have other kids because she used it to draw.

“That probably went to help my drawing perfection,” she says.

In addition to creating watercolor paintings, Mangus-Hopkins also paints shoes -- specifically orthopedic shoes for clients -- and purses. - PHOTO BY SHELBY ROBY-TERRY
  • Photo by Shelby Roby-Terry
  • In addition to creating watercolor paintings, Mangus-Hopkins also paints shoes -- specifically orthopedic shoes for clients -- and purses.

Mangus-Hopkins admits that she’s not as independent as she used to be or would like to be, but she doesn’t use her limited vision as a crutch.

She’s using her artwork and her voice to encourage others. Recently, she spoke to a group about macular degeneration and diabetic neuropathy. She’ll be the featured artist at Bosma’s convention in this month, and has been asked to speak at a convention in October to a group of professionals who work with the deaf and visually impaired.

Her message when she speaks to these groups might be different, but there is one thing that remains consistent.

“I always take bar of soap with me, and put it on the podium, because I use cuss words sometimes and that way I remind myself not to,” Mangus-Hopkins deadpans.

Another constant is her daily thanks to God for her vision that remains.

All my life, I have been inspired to draw. And now I’m more popular than ever,” she says. “It’s so wonderful what God let’s me do. For me, art means life. It’s my everything.”

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