Future Reflections         Winter 2011

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Hands-On Art

by Ann Cunningham

From the Editor: Ann Cunningham is an artist whose pictures and sculptures are meant to be enjoyed through touch. Her work is on display in many museums and public buildings. Two of her installations are on display in the Jacobus tenBroek Library of the NFB Jernigan Institute. She teaches art at the Colorado Center for the Blind.

Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center
30 W. Dale St., Colorado Springs, CO 80903
(719) 634-5583
Open Tuesday through Sunday, 10 AM to 5 PM; closed Monday

Buna Dahal of Colorado uses both hands to examine the panel depicting Spring.Art and design color every corner of our day-to-day world. Someone designed the glass from which we drink our morning juice and the fork we use to place tasty morsels in our mouths. We all have hands-on experience with well-designed tools and products and with some that are not so well-designed. But where can we get our hands on the art portion of the art and design duo? In particular, where can we gain hands-on experience of the fine arts?

Most of the world's sculpture gardens are perfectly friendly toward visitors who wish to explore the sculptures by touch. These venues are great places to visit. However, outdoor art pieces are frequently so huge that only parts of them are accessible. Sometimes only the pedestal is within reach.

The Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center has taken a different approach to making art accessible. All of the works at the museum's Tactile Gallery have been selected to be touched. A dedicated committee has amassed a collection of almost two hundred pieces, including many original works. Twelve to eighteen pieces are on display at any given time, and exhibits change regularly.

The Tactile Gallery was created in October, 1981, by Peggy Marshall and Mary Mashburn. It was modeled on the Mary Duke Biddle Gallery in Raleigh, North Carolina. The Biddle Gallery has since closed, making the Colorado Springs Tactile Gallery the oldest and largest collection of tactilely available art in the United States.

Until recently the gallery was a small alcove off the museum's main hall. Now, after the museum underwent a multi-million-dollar renovation, the tactile art collection has moved into a large brand-new gallery adjacent to the main entrance. All who enter the museum can enjoy the Tactile Gallery free of charge, including those attending meetings, lectures, and the theater.

The pieces in the Tactile Gallery are displayed within easy hand's reach, even for most wheelchair users. The pieces are labeled in large print and Braille. Museum docents are dedicated to helping visitors make the most of their experience with the exhibits. It is wise to contact the museum prior to a visit to arrange for a docent to be available.

In 2008 I was honored with a commission to create an original work for the gallery in memory of founder Peggy Marshall. I took the opportunity to create four landscape panels. The pictures are iconic images representing Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter in the Rocky Mountains. Each picture shows Pike's Peak in the background.

I often take my art students from the Colorado Center for the Blind on field trips to the gallery. Their enthusiastic response to the art objects makes these visits as much fun for the docents as they are for us. We all learn from one another.

In my classes I see students quickly learning to interpret and enjoy works of art through the sense of touch. This skill is easily acquired, but it is enhanced by experience. I strongly encourage parents and teachers to give blind children plenty of opportunities to get their hands on art!

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