Legally blind since the age of eight, Matthew Errett doesn’t let his limitations hold him back. In addition to being an accomplished saxophone player and training himself to play music by ear, he has a variety of other artistic talents. “I also paint and draw, act, and am in show choir” Matthew says.
Matthew graduated with an Associate of Fine Arts (AFA) degree from Forsyth Tech in May of 2017, but his journey at the college began five years earlier. He started to pursue an Associate in Arts degree, but realized he needed a specialized degree with more fine arts classes. That’s when he started the process of earning his AFA degree—but then, something unexpected happened in 2014.
“It all began when I had a kidney transplant at the age of two,” Matthew explains. “Because of the anti-rejection medicines, I lost most of my vision when I was eight – so I’ve spent the majority of my life adapting to my vision loss. Over the years, I have had a number of illnesses and struggles related to the loss of my kidneys. In 2014, I had a condition that affected my brain that caused me to have to withdraw from school.”
Matthew was determined to not let his health and vision issues get in his way. He re-enrolled the following year, with perseverance and hope to finish his degree. It was a slow, but steady process. Instead of taking a full course load, he took nine hours of coursework each semester.
“Dr. Sarah Hawks, the Disability Service Coordinator at Forsyth Tech, was great in helping me with accommodations to guide me through such a challenging time,” Matthew says.
He adds that Forsyth Tech was instrumental in his success. “It was academically rigorous, but provided the small, nurturing environment that I needed.”
His mother, Carmen Caruth, says without the concern and care the college showed Matthew, she’s not sure if her son would have graduated.
“The college gave him exactly what he needed when he needed it,” Carmen says.
Matthew is also thankful for the support of his peers at the college. To be able to draw, he uses a visual aid device that enlarges a tiny area about 2 inches by 5 inches and reflects it onto a viewing screen so that he can see to complete his artwork. The students in one of his drawing classes became very interested in how he sees by viewing small sections sequentially. This inspired them to develop a group project together that explored this experience.
“Each student did a large drawing,” Matt explains. “When exhibited, they were all mounted side by side in a grid on a wall and covered by a curtain hiding the art. The students in my class teamed up with our instructor, Alex Soler, to build a scaffolding device placed behind the curtain that allowed a small camera to move on an x/y axis.”
It was a labor of love and showed true dedication by the students—who wanted to see how Matthew sees. After much trial and error, they designed and built the scaffolding and camera from parts they purchased. The camera scrolls horizontally and vertically through the pieces, controlled by the art viewer who manipulates a game type joystick. As the camera moves it feeds the view of tiny areas of the drawings to a large TV screen in front of the viewer.
“The viewer then sees small sections of the artwork in sequential sections, reflecting the process through which I see,” Matthew explains. “I thought the exhibit was validating because it allowed people to see the art from a different perspective—my perspective. I appreciate the class and the people who came to the exhibit being willing to see the exhibit from the screen like I do, rather than looking behind the curtain to see the whole drawing.”
This was the first off-campus exhibit for the AFA art program and first professional exhibit for the students involved.
“Matthew is an amazing, talented student and his tenacity and creative achievement is so inspiring,” said Cecelia Wright, Fine Arts Program Coordinator at Forsyth Tech.
Matthew’s hard work paid off on May 9, 2017, when he graduated with his AFA degree. He’s planning on taking that talent to a whole new level. In the fall, he’ll attend Winston-Salem State University to pursue a degree in music. He hopes to one day open his own jazz dinner club.
“There are things I can’t do, but I don’t focus on them,” Matthew says. “Always focus on what you can do.”