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Gina Pontelandolfo

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA

Gina with a huge pile of her corals. The photo by Claire Tellefson.

In the course of the Crochet Reef project we have had the honor to encounter many remarkable women but perhaps none more inspiring than Gina Pontelandolfo. Gina has Usher Syndrome, a rare genetic condition: She was born totally deaf and since the age of 25 has been slowly going blind as her vision has narrowed into an ever narrower tunnel. Her current state of sight has been described as follows "if you put 2 pin holes in a piece of cardboard, corresponding to where each eye is, then hold it up in front of your eyes and look through the pin holes."

Gina is a contributor to the Melbourne Reef, which was initiated in 2009 by Australian crafter Tracy Hayllar - a pretty remarkable woman herself. Tracy taught Gina how to make crochet corals with the help of a deaf interpreter who read Tracy's lips and translated what she said into sign language. Gina then "felt the hands of the translator" as she signed the information. Tracy introduced Gina to a series of crochet models so that she could learn "how to count stitches by feel." The photo above shows Gina with a selection of her corals, which will be included in the debut exhibition of the Melbourne Reef at the Burrinja Community Cultural Center (opening October 2010).

Says Tracy:

"Gina is quite amazing, her personality is bright and bubbly and always full of enthusiasm.  I hear she is a fantastic cook--3 course dinners every night! Gina is quite independent, getting around on public transport unassisted and doesn't seem to be daunted by anything. A case in point, she decided she wanted to learn wood turning - so she did - going by taste and smell to determine the type of wood & how the grain would behave in the lathe. When we asked her if we could do a bit of a story on her we were amazed when an email arrived. Claire, who has known Gina for 20 years said this is the first time she has known Gina to write anything."

A small patch reef of Gina's corals. Photo by Tracy Hayllar.

Here is Gina's email about herself:

"I have really enjoyed being involved in the crochet coral reef project.  I had some wool and I asked my sister for some and I visited op shops and I brought some additional wool at the shop.

All my life I have been involved in craft as my creative hobby. I was born deaf in Carlton, Melbourne Australia and when I was 25 year old  my eyes began to be a problem and when I was 30 I found my eyes have a condition called Retinitis pigmentosa, or tunnel Vision.  My combined deafness with blindness is called Usher Sydnrome and it is inherited.

My parents are from Italy.  When I was a little girl I watched my mother work;  knitting jumpers, sewing dresses and making Italian foods . I asked my Mother to teach me how to knit a scarf when I was 7 years old. My mother made dresses on a treadle sewing machine with a foot peddle, no electricity. One day my Mother went to do some cooking, so I tried to make a dress for my doll on the sewing machine. She caught me being naughty.

I left school early at 16 years old and I started work making dresses as a machinist sewing and overlocking.  Next, I had my own  little business in my home.  My family and friends asked me make dresses and do knitting.  I also made craft to sell.  I made dolls for door stops, picnic linen embroidered cloth with a wheat pocket to keep scones warm, macramé, art, cooking and other decorative things for the house."

Usher syndrome, an extremely rare condition, was the subject of a beautiful documentary hosted by Oliver Sacks called "The Ragin' Cajin: Usher Syndrome". This BBC produced film follows the life of Danny Delacambre who was born in a region of Louisiana with the highest concentration of Usher syndrome in the world.

Click here for more information about the Melbourne Reef.

Another patch reef of Gina's corals. Photo by Tracy Hayllar.