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.

Sensational DraftingBoard – A Tactile Tool for Technical Drawings


You have all seen my buddy, Dan Burke, in action tactually looking at pictures on this blog, but today he is going to learn how to draw an isometric cube. This clip is about two minutes long, highlighting a process that actually took about 20 minutes. This is his first time using these tools and drawing this shape using this type of perspective.

The tools are:

  1. A Sensational DraftingBoard, 18″ x 24″ with an adjustable horizontal bar. The surface allows the drafts-person to draw on copy paper, tracing or polyester film.
  2. The tool he uses is a 30° 60° 90° plastic triangle notched at one inch increments.
  3. He also uses a medium ball point pen.
  4. We used copy paper for this drawing.

It is evident that he quickly learns how to manipulate the tools and understands basic concepts underlying isometric perspective.

It makes me happy that the techniques we used at the National Federation of the Blind EQ program last summer are going to be so easy to share with other students. And we had fun!

How A Rabbit Runs – part 1

One of my goals this year was to see if I could sculpt an image that could create an animation in a person’s mind through touch. Can I carve an image that makes it seem like a moving picture?

I have to have a strong curiosity in my subject matter because it has to be sustained through many weeks of carving. For this sculpture I chose rabbits.

Near my neighborhood is a trail that follows a stream flowing through some wetlands.A sidewalk / bike path curves around a wetland swamp. The path is lined with trees and lawn. From one year to the next the rabbit population seems to boom and then diminish in direct proportion to the number of coyotes in the area. This year there seem to be fewer, but bolder, coyotes. The result is that the coyotes are well fed and we still have lots of bunnies.

A photo of a rabbit that I crossed paths with on a walk one morning.

A rabbit resting on the trail.

Directly behind the swamp is a large field with a coyote den. A coyote is standing dead center.

A coyote is right in the middle of this picture.

As I walk along I can’t help but think about the place rabbits hold in the food chain. Each rabbit’s life seems so tenuous, their situation so vulnerable. But as a species they flourish. When I see them running they actually look strong and free. I can’t help wonder how they see themselves. I wonder how similar our perception of our own life is…

I love drawing animals that I haven’t drawn before because I get to learn how they are put together. I start with a gestural drawing just to capture the “feel”, the motion and emotions, of what I want to sculpt.

Messy red chalk drawing of three running rabbits. The rabbit pushes off from both of its large back feet and, stretching forward, launches itself into the air. As it arch back to earth it lands on its small front feet. It pulls its hind feet up past its front feet, on the outside, as it readies itself for the next stride. Placing both back feet on the ground again it repeats the sequence.

Once I have that picture, I cutout a skeleton to see if what I am thinking of drawing is even something a rabbit could do. I fit the skeleton into each rabbit and use that as a guide as I draft my working drawing.

Chalk drawing in background with a cut out paper skeleton of a rabbit positioned on top.

The working drawing is the sketch that gets blown up for sandblasting. (See July 1, 2015 blog: Stone Carving – The First Step Is a Blast)

A graphite drawing of the rabbits in

I love seeing how a rabbit uses its body as compared to how I use mine. Rabbits and humans have homologous parts but use them in very different ways. When I get down to the bones I can see this and feel it as I sculpt. I find myself imagining what it would feel like to be able to run like a rabbit. I wonder what it would be like to see out of the sides of my head. How much more could I hear with those ears!

The finished slate sculpture illustrating a rabbit's stride.

“Sequence,” by Ann Cunningham 2015 slate 14x 60x 3/4″

Next week, when I teach class at the Colorado Center for the Blind, I will be able to give this baby a test run. I’ll post video results.

Photo close up of rabbits head, the eye is the shape of a sunflower. Parts of the rabbit are very smooth and other parts have the rabbits fur in fine detail.