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Global accolades for designer who is blind

Edition 200_DuncanMeerding

It is an incredible feat. Young Hobart designer, Duncan Meerding, is blind, yet he has just won an international award at the ‘Oscars of lighting’.

He may have less than five per cent vision, but 32-year-old Meerding is garnering international acclaim for his quirky Cracked Log Lights, which he both designs and makes.

Crafted from salvaged Tasmanian logs, shards of light randomly spill out of cracks carved into the wood.

“My work is inspired by Tasmania’s environment, the dappling effect of light through a forest canopy,” Meerding explains.

“I do have an interest in the interplay of light, and how it forms in, and around, an object.

“It is a reality that my designs are influenced by my vision impairment, and maybe I pay more attention to things that are subconscious to most other people, like that dappling of light.” 

In May, Meerding flew to London where he was presented with a prestigious international design award.

A cluster of Stump Lights, from his Cracked Log range, was named Best Floor Light at the 2018 DARC awards (Decorative Lighting in Architecture Awards).

“These awards are considered the ‘Oscars’ of the lighting industry”, Meerding explains.

“6,500 industry professionals from across the world – architects, lighting designers, or interior designers – all voted for the winners.

“Was I pinching myself? Absolutely.”

Meerding then backed up his London win with a trip to Italy, where he was the only Australian invited to exhibit at Venice Design 2018 which is part of the Venice Biennale.

This would be an incredible achievement for a person with full sight, let alone someone who is legally blind.

Meerding was just 18, and fresh out of school in Hobart, when his vision began to fail in April 2005.

In the space of 12 months, his perfect sight was reduced to less than 5 per cent vision. All that remained was some peripheral sight, and the limited ability to see shadows and light.

Meerding’s blindness was caused by Leber’s Hereditary Optic Neuropathy (LHON), which mostly affects young males.

And, although one of Meerding’s uncles had LHON, it still came as a bolt out of the blue.

“It was a shock to the system,” Meerding said.

“I had been told LHON could be an eventuality, but it was something I just didn’t think about at all.

“I was an 18-year-old, and on my gap year, and did not even give it a second thought. It was the last thing on my mind.”

Despite this new reality, Meerding pursued his lifelong passion for woodwork, which had seen him win the school woodwork prize as a grade 12 student.

He then went on to study furniture design at University, aided by specially modified equipment, and special courses where he learnt how to work with his visual impairment.

Eight years ago, Meerding set up shop as a professional light designer-maker in his small north Hobart studio.

So, how does someone who is legally blind, design and make such extraordinary works of art?

“It is incredibly difficult to explain,” Meerding said.

“But the best way I can explain it is that you don’t need to have sight to have vision.

“Design, for example, is not just visual, it is about a certain way of thinking, a lateral, adaptive way of thinking. Design is imagination based, I design in my mind.

“The difficulty is getting what is in my mind down onto paper, but I have people who can help me with that when needed.”

Meerding is rapidly gaining an international client list.

His Cracked Log light range has been installed at Google headquarters in Singapore, at the Clarion Hotel in Stockholm, and in a number of buildings around Bahrain. There is also a pending deal for a large installation in the USA.

Back home, his lights can be seen in some of Hobart’s most design forward establishments, including the award-winning MACq 01 Hotel, on Hobart’s waterfront, and The Den at Salamanca.

Alongside his acclaimed Cracked Logs, Meerding has other designs, including his popular Propeller Pendant light crafted out of Tasmanian Eucalypt.

There is no doubt that Meerding is an incredible young Tasmanian, and justifiably proud of his achievements.

His great hope now is that his success will inspire others who may be facing a similar disability.

“At the end of the day I am very lucky to be able to do something that I enjoy very much,” Meerding explained.

“I am very much a passionate advocate trying to make it so that other people get similar opportunities that I have, especially from within the vision impaired, legally blind community.

“Because sometimes the disability isn’t necessarily the disability itself, but the perception within yourself, and from other people about what a person can or cannot do.”

Footnote: You can see Duncan Meerding’s creations, plus that of other top Tasmanian designers and artisans, at the Designed: Made showcase. The exhibition and market will include furniture, textiles, and jewellery, and is on at the Hobart Town Hall over the last weekend in November.

Image courtesy of Duncan Meerding

9 November 2018, Edition 200

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