Sightless Weaver's Attitude Colors the Fabric of Her Life

The things Arvena Farley loved the most slowly began to disappear.

The care went first.  That was two years ago.  Then television was gone, quickly followed by her delicate handwork: Knitting, needlepoint and crocheting.  Soon even her beloved books faded away.

When Farley, 76, a Union Park resident, officially entered the twilight world of legal blindness last year, she took only one hobby with her a sure-fingered skill for weaving reed baskets.

"When I realized I couldn't see, I was devastated because I thought I couldn't make baskets anymore," said Farley, who suffers from macular degeneration, a painless breakdown of tissues at the back of the eye.

Farley has peripheral vision, but no central or straight-on vision left.  But she can still weave, thanks to Eva Walsh.  The multimedia artist who introduced Farley to basket weaving about 10 years ago was firm:  "Oh, yes, you can," Walsh told her longtime pupil.  "You can feel your way."

Now, every Thursday, Farley rides with a neighbor to the Beardall Senior Center in downtown Orlando to join eight other senior citizens in Walsh's weekly basket-weaving class.

"All she needed was somebody to pull the colors for her and soak the reeds," said Walsh, who also teaches basket weaving at Creadle School of Art in Winter Park.

She says Farley is one of just a handful of blind weavers to try her class in the 15 years she has taught it.

The retired doctor's assistant from Phoenix os nothing if not determined: Farley patiently fishes length of coiled reef from her soaking tub only wet reeds are pliant enough for weaving and lets her fingers work their way around the basket's spines.

"I use two weavers (reeds) in this color, then I add a green one... you see how the design changes," Farley animatedly explains.

This basket destined to be a green and natural-colored waste basket will take about 14 hours to complete.  She's proudest, though, of the reeds she has artistically twined around a wine bottle her first bottle design since losing her sight.

Farley, a veteran of more than 100 baskets, laments that she's slower now that she used to be and, consequently, does fewer baskets.

But in her prime she was a one-woman assembly line, creating small containers, casserole totes, doll baskets, log baskets and melon baskets.

She mailed them to her son in Phoenix, sold them to a friend in Malaysia and gave them to her sales agent daughter to use as small gifts at her real estate closings.

Farley's high-production days may be over, but she has honed her hobby to a fine art by adding a single ingredient: the right attitude.

It's not surprising that Farley was chosen as graduation speaker in December for an Orlando raining program for the blind.

Her parting gift to her blind fellow grads wasn't surprising either.  She left them her "Be Attitudes."

They go like this:
"Be cheerful for yourself and those around you.
"Be involved and focus on things you know you can do.
"Be tolerant of those who do not understand.
"Be eager to accept challenges that can lead you to success."

Farley knows they work; she has tried them all in basket-weaving class.

--Posted from an article by Sandra Mathers that appeared in the Orlando Sentinel about two years ago