DAM Docents

Denver Art Museum Docents

This September, Cincinnati will be Hosting the National Docent Symposium. The theme is:

 “Bridge to the Past….Path to the Future”

The Denver Art Museum docent team of Sharon Rouse, Carol Hamilton and Marty Corren, led by Carolyn Strand, will talk about the 15 year history of Tactile Tables, as a way to make information accessible at the Denver Art Museum. I have had the honor of working with the incredible docents and amazing staff since the beginning of the Tactile Tables program.

Just last weekend Channel 9 News came to see how the tactile images work and to talk to visitors about their experience.

Over the years I have had an opportunity to explore a lot of different way to make information accessible to touch. The docents have been essential to collecting good information so that our tactile images could evolve into something better.

I would like to describe one of the techniques I used to create a tactile interpretations of one of the paintings featured in the news clip.

click on this link to see the Denver Art Museum’s image of Water Lily Pond by Claude Monet, 1904

I start by breaking down the subject matter into categories:



Lily pads

Shoreline plants

I then assign each category a distinct texture.

Water – self leveling gel

Left side: underpainting of water areas. Right side: self leveling gel texture to represent water.

Left side: underpainting of water areas. Right side: self leveling gel texture to represent water.

Flowers – bead texture

Left side: detail of lavender colored paint with small glass beads. Right side: jar of Golden Glass Beads

Left side: detail of lavender colored paint with small glass beads. Right side: jar of Golden Glass Bead Gel

Lily pads – pumice, fine texture

Left side: jar of Golden Fine Pumice Gel. Right side: brown colored paint mixed with pumice sample.

Left side: jar of Golden Fine Pumice Gel. Right side: brown colored paint mixed with pumice sample.

Shoreline plants – matt medium extra heavy gel

Left side: brown sample of paint mixed with Golden High Solids Gel, matte. Right side: image of jar.

Left side: brown sample of paint mixed with Golden High Solids Gel, matte. Right side: image of jar.

I paint an approximation of the painting so that the docents can discuss color with visitors but the images are also fully accessible tactually.

Three people who are blind are sitting around a tactile picture of Claude Monet's Water Lily Pond, collection of the Denver Art Museum. Another visitor who is blind is discussing the original work with another docent.

Visitors who are blind and visually impaired talk to docents who are happy to share their love of art through tactile images and discussion.

Putting the STEAM into STEM

Including Art as a critical educational element.

Educators know the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math are getting a lot of attention these days. But many educators are now also recognizing that we need to add Art to the equation to better understand concepts and share new ideas.

The National Federation of the Blind is on that list and they just hosted a week long event at which 19 high school students from across the United States came to Baltimore to design and make boats, water filtration systems and learn the skills to illustrate and share their ideas.

This photo shows the front of the Jernigan Institute. It is a four story structure featuring a red brick and green glass facade. A large billboard with the name of the NFB that can be seen from the highway is on the roof.

We worked, slept and ate on site making it easy to accomplish a lot.

The event was organized by NFB Educator Natalie Shaheen.

The event was organized by NFB Educator Natalie Shaheen.

I taught alongside two engineering professors from Utah. Dr. Idalis Villanueva from Utah State University, was the leader of this program and also led the water filtration design track. Dr. William Clapp, from Weber State University led the boat prototyping  and construction track.

Four students were assigned to each of our five teams. (Yes, one team was short a member.)

Two of the four students took the lead on building a boat that they could get in and paddle! Every team managed to get a boat into the water and paddle it through some choppy waves towards the finish line.

A boat made of pvc pipe and wrapped in blue tarp and secured with tape sits high in the water as the sleep-shaded paddler prepares to race.

Team members position their boat at the start line.

One student from each team learned a number of different methods to clean and desalinate water that was very muddy and salty. They then tested their water filtration designs and competed against each other on race day.

They accomplished this under a unique flag designed and constructed by their team artists. These designers also had a hand in designing the other deliverables as they brainstormed and sketched ideas with their team members. Race day was great but the four days that led up to that event were even more amazing.

A flag with a green background and red and orange abstract designs surrounds a white tactile wolf in the center.

White Wolf Flag

Imagine walking into a room full of boat making supplies, PVC pipes and connectors, glue, duct tape and tarps. The next room held hundreds of empty water bottles, buckets, stacks of toilet paper, containers of charcoal, and duct tape ready to be configured into a system that could turn dirty water into clean. Or you may have been assigned to my area full of tactile drawing boards, modified triangles, french curves and tactile rulers along with all sorts of papers and materials to create technical drawings of real objects and imagined designs.

A large pile of long sticks of inch diameter PVC pipe and a wide variety of connectors are organized in preparation for the EQ activities.

Boat Making Materials

Ten students were in the construction area learning engineering principles and tool and material handling from Dr. Bill. Five students became our water specialists and focused on how water filtrations systems work under the instruction of Dr. V.

empty pop bottles, caps, toilet paper and scissors are tools and materials organized on a tabletop for one type of water filter.

Water Filtration Materials

I had five student designers in my area. First I taught the designers how to use the basic Sensational Black Boards and papers along with a variety of tools. They also had other boards and an electronic eraser for plastic paper that they could try out.  These same students then took the lead in teaching the rest of their team about drawing basics.

Two different styles of boat models were made for this event and were on the table in front of boards used for drawing, including the Sensational BlackBoard!

Models to Draw

The next three days we explored how to use a drafting board fitted with a tactile drawing surface to draft orthographic and isometric perspectives. Everyone was able to confidently complete this task by day four, even students who had never drawn before. I was extremely happy to see this as we broke new ground together.

Oh and they each made team flags that symbolized their goals and inspiration.

I am excited to take this curriculum back to my art classes at the Colorado Center for the Blind. One way students can immediately use these skills will be on shop projects. Students will be able to design on paper before they begin to cut wood.

We used modified triangles and accessible straight edges.

A student just completed an isometric perspective drawing of a cube on a Sensational DraftBoard.

This image shows a student working on a drawing of a complex block of wood with a hole drilled through it. This is preliminary step to the isometric drawing.

Orthographic projections of a complex block.

In art class we will be able to take these lessons and forge ahead into CAD drawing. I think that by translating tangible objects into sensible drawings that we can predictably assign accurate plot points to we will be able to make sense of computer drafting. My hope is that this will lead to students creating original computer drafting files for 3D printing.

A variety of tools including a protractor, french curves, a 30, 60, 90 degree triangle with circle templates and straight edges.

Some of the tools we used.

I had a great time and one of those, “Dream Moments” when one student drew with clear understanding her first cube. All my work of years seemed to coalesce in that instant. For that opportunity I will be forever thankful.