Nancy Cozart and the Indomitable Nine

Nancy Cozart, a Teacher of the Blind and Visually Impaired (TVI) for the Littleton Public Schools in Colorado, is one of those teachers who you hope is assigned to your child. She is generous with her time and thoughtful about organizing activities, not only for her students but for their friends and classmates.

Portrait of Nancy Cozart.

Nancy Cozart 

This January, I was invited to talk about how to use a raised-line drawing board to make art. The Sensational BlackBoard is a tool that offers a technique to make drawings with a pen and paper that can be felt as well as seen. There are nine boys who regularly get together to explore the secret code of Braille and also enjoy learning about alternative ways to go about everyday and special activities without using sight.

Five students sitting around the table exploring pictures with their eyes closed.

(Some of) The Indomitable Nine

I was invited to talk about art making. The first activity was to learn how to use the board.  Nancy said, “the first word my student who is legally blind said after his first drawn line using the blackboard was “WOW”.” I can describe and show you how to draw using the board but people don’t seem to really get it until they are able to touch the line and feel it for themselves. So, it is always fun to be there when someone discovers how drawing can become a tactile activity!

Ann Cunningham talking giving instructions on tracing a dinosaur picture.

Ann Cunningham

Engaging kids in activities that demystify the differences between people is a powerful technique to connect students. I was talking to a friend who said that she is still sad that when she was in grade school a child came to their school who had some significant challenges. But instead of teaching the children how to talk about it, they were told to ignore it. Unfortunately, that led to them ignoring the child too.

The young man holds up a picture of different kinds of lines as his first tactile drawing.

The Sensational BlackBoard in action

Nancy’s Braille Club is forging pathways to understanding that I am pretty sure all the students will be able to use the rest of their lives. When they think back on their classmates I think there is a good chance it will be with a sense of happy adventure.



Making Spaghetti Make Sense

I was asked by Colorado Ski for Light  to make a map of Snow Mountain Ranch, Nordic Center ski trails. Sounds easy enough. Once I had the map in hand, I realized this place is a rabbit warren of twisting trails crisscrossing through miles of terrain. I know making a map is a whole different kettle of fish from tactile art making but I felt up to the challenge.


First, I needed to decide how many different trails people need to distinguish, one from the other.  Clearly folks need to know which trails are easy, intermediate and expert. Since the snowshoe trails and dog trails intersect the ski trails that would also be helpful to distinguish. Of course people need to know where the roads are too.

Once I knew I needed to create six distinct textures for the different paths, I decided to accomplish this by cutting all the maps out of poster-board. These trails would then be placed as an overlay on the low relief map indicating terrain contours.

I decided to use the smooth texture for the road. After a lot of trial and error, I decided to glue an embroidery thread to the middle of the dog trails. I then assigned a fabric strip with a distinct texture to the snowshoe routes because these often ran adjacent to the ski trails. The texture was distinct but subtle so that it would not distract from the ski trails.


For the ski trail, I reserved Braille sized dots because they are the easiest to scan for with big sweeps of the hand. Once you zero in on the trails they are distinguished by the dot spacing. Easy trails have the dots one after the other, just a solid line of dots. The intermediate trails have about a 3/16 inch space between dots, and the expert trails have about a 3/8 inch space between.  By having dots assigned only to the ski trails, it is easy to find them and then by looking closer, it is easy to determine the trail’s ability level.

map detail

The starting place for all activities, the Nordic Center, was indicated by a big star, and the points of interest had a round indicator identified by Braille letters. The key to the trail names and points of interest and trail identifiers are on both sides of the map so that two people can look at the map together and easily access the information.

Map Lg

Christine McGroarty, from Ski for Light, wrote: “The tactile map is wonderful. It was unbelievably interesting and exciting to be able to get a sense of how the grounds are laid out. I have skied at Snow Mountain Ranch for years and had no image of the grounds, but now I do. Over the course of the weekend, I and several of our other blind participants spent considerable time exploring the map. Our deaf-blind skier was particularly excited to be able to get a mental picture of how the grounds are laid out.”

Screen Shot 2016-02-15

We would very much like to recognize the Englewood Lions Club for sponsoring the map.


Creative Conversations

I like to see inspiration spread. Art is a conversation, it is complete when it is shared. If it sparks a creative response from another artist all the better. The classic poem Wynken, Blynken & Nod was written by Denver poet, Eugene Field, in 1889.

Screen Shot 2016-02-02 at 7.43.42 AM

In 1918, the mayor of Denver commissioned Mabel Landrum Torry to sculpt a larger-than-life limestone carving of the fishermen three.

Having fond memories of the scene I created an accessible tactile version in 2004.

Up in the sky four silver stars surround a man in the moon looking down on Wynken, Blynken and Nod in their wooden shoe boat. The boat is on a wavy ocean with silver fish looking up at the three. Slate moon, sky and waves, wooden carved shoe, bronze sailors, and silver leaf stars and fish. The steel net is covered in gold leaf.

Wynken, Blynken & Nod by Ann Cunningham.

And now in 2016, Team USA is following up with a grand scale 11’ tall snow sculpture in front of the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum, complete with beautiful, dramatic lighting!

Photo credit to Richard Wunsch

Team USA. As in the past, Mike Martino, Tom Queoff, and Mike Sponholtz.

A very large and accurate depiction of the slate bas relief sculpture described above, except that it is 11 feet tall and entirely made out of snow.

Wynken, Blynken & Nod snow sculpture in the day.

At night blue lights illuminate the sculpture while one red light is focused on the moon's face.

Wynken, Blynken & Nod snow sculpture at night.

It is nice to know when we become a link in a chain. I hope the snow sculpture survives until February 21, 2016 when I arrive in Wausau to dismantle Forest Folklore and WB&N  is shipped back to Denver.

Greetings From Wisconsin

Woodson Girricoccola.jpg

I have been having a great time in the North Woods of Wisconsin. I am not sure this is officially the North Woods, but it certainly is woody and beautiful. Charlie and I left Golden in a 16’ truck full of artwork and arrived in Wausau about noon on the November 30th.

            FullSizeRender (9) FullSizeRender (8)

Andy McGivern, Joe and Dave, staff members at the Woodson Art Museum, pitched in and we had the artwork out of the truck and into the gallery in short order.

FullSizeRender (6) FullSizeRender (7)

Andy and I took a few minutes to decide how to turn this space into a fairy tale forest and then we got to work. Soon it was completely transformed.

FullSizeRender (3)

Installing trees,

FullSizeRender (1)

Installing trees,

By the end of the week we had the exhibit up and running and were ready to invite the public in to see and touch! I would like to invite you to go to the Woodson’s Facebook page and see all the wonderful images Rick Wunsch has taken for the museum.

The Woodson Art Museum is fantastic! It is a beautiful museum and I get to stay in the little house next door. This makes it easy and relaxing, that is once I get home each day. During the day it is quite another matter. We, the staff and I, are calling it “The 700,” referring to the 700, 3 to 6 year old school children scheduled to participate in art making activities between December 8th and the 17th. On the evening of the 17th, all the families are invited to the museum to view the walls covered with  1,400 works of art that the children have made. This is a photo of three days of work!

Woodson Children's workshop

A white marble ptarmigan is at the entrance of the workshop room set up for the children. 6″ x 6″ tin tiles line the walls from floor to ceiling.


Hard straight lines express this child’s “grumpy.”

The project is to express emotions, we are focusing on grumpy and happy.
All the children are also invited to explore Forest Folklore. The exhibit has been getting a lot of exposure. Members Night kicked it off to a very good start and since then we have had many special interest groups, including children, teens and adults, as well as the regular museum visitors.
Remember to visit the Woodson Facebook page if you would like to see people interacting with the artwork. When I am taking pictures it is only because no one is around. When someone is at the exhibit I forget about the camera and talk to them!
This museum thrives under the direction of Kathy Foley and I would like to thank the entire staff and all the volunteers for making this exhibit and  residency such a wonderful experience.
Woodson Wolves in stiu

A wolf-pack is central to the exhibit. All signs are in large print and Braille.

Almost Ready to Go

Not much time to write this week. Things are kicking into high gear in the studio/shop getting everything ready to load out for the exhibit. Thought I would just post some photos of us while we are moving as fast as we can.

Ann is reaching through arm holes to work inside a booth that holds the stone artwork. It has a large window and light making it easy to see.

Working in the enclosed booth cuts down on dust but I still have to suit up to make sure I am not breathing fine particles that escape.

Ann is standing beside a 7’ x 2’ bas relief sculpture of birds on a mountain top.

I need to decide how to finish “On the Divide.” So many decisions.

Wooden easels are stacked up outside.

We are pulling all the display easels out to evaluate.

A hodge-podge of plants, a skeleton, drawings hanging from the ceiling, stacks of paintings, and a sculpture stand with chalk and charcoal.

My upstairs design and drawing area.

Bas relief wolves leaning against the wall next to my desk.

Stacks of wolves waiting for their finish coat.

Charlie is reaching up to shelves in the shop above her work bench.

Charlie selecting wood for frames.

Ann leaning over the sculpture as she applies gold leaf to the net.

Gilding the net on Wynken, Blynken and Nod.

Mike is working at his computer surrounded with sculpture, including a bunny right by his keyboard.

Mike is working on getting the word out, helping with communications.

Artwork is stacked up all around the studio.

Sequence is stacked in front of a panel from Golden Goose.

I am very excited to work with the Woodson Art Museum staff since we have so much scheduled. First week of December, I will be working with fine craftsmen on staff to install the artwork and create the forest. The following two weeks I will get to work with the educators on programing for 600 kids! Should be a lot of fun.

A Braille Trail Adventure and a Tactile Art Exhibit

Hello, my name is Jenny Callahan and I am one of Ann’s art students at the Colorado Center for the Blind. Today, I am going to share with you about the Braille Trail in Aspen, Colorado. I love braille both as a form of communication and also as a tactile art-form. I love incorporating braille in art projects, especially clay and acrylic painting.

What is the Braille Trail? While today there are more than 100 braille trails throughout the country, in 1962 the concept had yet to be created. A science teacher by the name of Bob Lewis happened across a book his 12-year-old daughter had brought home, that described the code invented by Louis Braille. This inadvertent inspiration prompted Bob to conceive the idea of the trail.

This began a five-year process to secure an area from the Forestry Service. In that time he also designed the trail and organized the installation of the signs with descriptions of spots on the trail written by a naturalist.  The metal signs are in both braille and print. The trail has a guide rope along one side of the path. This makes navigation with dog, cane or sighted guide very easy over the rough terrain.  On this trail, Braille is used to allow a closer inspection of nature through the senses of touch, smell, and hearing. The path itself is on rocky terrain in a forest.

A friend described it as a very informative experience with the signs describing the flora of the forest. An interesting side note, bird droppings had to be removed from some of the braille signs (extra dots). The trail itself is not very long. However, the upkeep and maintenance on the trail is quite expensive. The trail is maintained by the Independence Pass Foundation.

When Ann told me about her random stop – when driving to Aspen, upon seeing a sign for the Braille Trail – it reminded me of many of my own road trip adventures.  And, it reminds me how, just as how Bob Lewis saw an opportunity to merge art and science, in the absence of a sense, being open to new roadside adventures can also help us create new types of art.

The braille trail also reminds me of the sacred mountains in China. That even though I can’t see now, I can picture them so vividly in my mind with the trails clinging to the sides of the mountain with just one or two boards and the ropes climbing up the side of the mountain into the clouds. And this is how I picture the Braille Trail, rising into the clouds, up the craggy rocks, dripping in pungent leafy smells.

– by Jenny Callahan, 2015

Independence Pass Braille Trail Station #1. Welcome to the Braille Nature Trail. This trail was designed by Bob Lewis to give all visitors an opportunity to use their senses to better understand and enjoy nature. The guide rope along the left side of the path will help visitors stay on the trail. A single knot in the rope indicates an upcoming interpretive sign. The trail length is equivalent to one city block and traverses some uneven terrain. Please enjoy the Independence Pass Braille Trail.

Beautiful rock-lined woodland path, receding into the pine forest

Enter a caption

Come experience what we can do when we combine our creative forces! The new exhibit at the Colorado Gallery of the Arts at the Littleton Campus of Arapahoe Community College features a unique combination of tactile and multisensory artworks created by ACC painting and ceramics students as well as our neighbors at the Colorado Center for the Blind. The second annual “Shared Visions” exhibit is full of artwork you can touch. The opening on Thursday, November 19th from 5-9 pm will be a truly memorable event. Everyone is welcome!

– by Nathan Abels

Katie and Cindy demonstrate wheel throwing techniques for the students from CCB.Jenny Callahan and 7 other students from The Colorado Center for the Blind (CCB) joined Katy Carons ceramics class at Arapahoe Community College. CCB will exhibit the bowls they created in this class, along with other works of art at Shared Visions. I hope you will join us on November 19th at Arapahoe Community College for our opening event.

Students interacting with the teachers during the demonstration.Yolanda, staff from CCB, takes off on her own.

Julie Deden, Director for Colorado Center for the Blind, looks at a tactile work of art in last year's tactile exhibit.