Ella Mae Lentz "Sign is Like a Tree" screenshot

Sculptures in the Air Project

“Sculptures in the Air” is a project supported by a Digitizing Hidden Collections grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR). The grant program is made possible by funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) Libraries is digitizing videotapes held in the RIT/NTID Deaf Studies Archives that document the ASL literature movement in Rochester from 1972-2007. The recordings capture performances by Deaf poets such as Robert Panara, Clayton Valli, Debbie Rennie, Peter Cook, Ella Mae Lentz (pictured on the left performing "Sign is Like a Tree") and others performing and analyzing ASL literature works at national conferences, in the classroom, and on stage.

Each poet has a unique sign language expressive style, which range from Panara’s transliteration of traditional English works and Shakespeare into contact sign with ASL features, to the avant-garde ASL and spoken English hybrid work of the Deaf and hearing ‘Flying Words’ duo Cook and Lerner, to Valli’s (the Deaf ‘Robert Frost’) original poetry created solely in ASL that uses body language, rhythm, and movement to create a spatial expression.

The provenance reflects the history of the ASL poetry movement in the United States. NTID had a leading role, hosting national conferences on ASL Literature attended by Deaf and hearing scholars, students, interpreters, and the public. Recognition of the scholarly and artistic value of the work gained momentum through these conferences.

This collection, when done, will be universally accessible: it will be captioned, voiced, transcribed and/or signed. The once “hidden” work of this pioneering and under-represented group will be made public for the first time, broadening access to the cultural heritage of this diverse group little known outside of the Deaf community and enriching interdisciplinary studies in linguistics, poetry, performing arts, and cinema.

Below you will find a selection of these archival ASL storytelling videos, as they become available. These are followed by links to some of the best contemporary ASL poetry. Enjoy!

Sculptures in the Air Project:

Debbie Rennie – "Colors of ASL"

Robert Panara - "Lyre"

Ella Mae Lentz - "Sign is Like a Tree"

Patrick Graybill - "Hydrogen Jukebox"

Patrick Graybill - "Defiance"

Ella Mae Lentz - "Eye Music"

Bernard Bragg - "The Road Not Taken"

Clayton Valli - "Dandelions"

NTID Drama Club Haiku Poetry - Betti Bonni

"The Deaf Duckling" - Bonnie Kramer

Contemporary ASL poetry of interest:

"The Stars are the Map I Unfurl" - UK Deaf Poet, Gary Quinn

"Caterpillar" - Ian Sanborn

"Groei"- Dutch Poet, Wim Emmerik

"Fire" - Dutch Poet, Giselle Meyer

"To My Muse" - Eric Epstein

"Symbiosis" - Douglas Ridloff

Colin Anlaco-Baird