I started volunteering at Arizona State Museum (ASM) shortly after retiring from my nursing career, happily leaving all those medical problems behind me. At ASM I worked for the registrar and we were involved in a huge accession called the Norton Allen Collection. We managed to put 580 whole vessels on a one-day exhibit. It was a big hit! Word spread throughout the University of Arizona campus about the exhibit.
Elaine called me in to her office one day and said, “A student wants to see the Norton Allen Collection. Would you show it to him?”
I said, “Yes, no problem.”
“Cherie, there is a problem, he is blind.”
“Elaine, I don’t know how to do this,” was my instant response. She convinced me to do it and on the following Wednesday he appeared with his note taker.
I was nervous; in fact I was scared. How does one “show” a blind person Hohokam pots and other wares?
I began describing the vessels and other items to him. I soon realized this was a lousy approach.
“Take off the gloves; we don’t need them.” I took his hand and placed a censer in it saying, “This is a censer. It has a snake carved into the stone.” He held the censer and rubbed and felt it.
“It has 2 snakes,” he said.
“What?” And so it did.
And so the hour went. I would hand items to him, sometimes taking his finger and tracing the painted designs on wares. He would tell me about them: “This artist has a sense of humor. This artist is very talented. This artist is doing a very difficult design.”
Years later I told Beth, School Program Director for ASM, this story, saying I didn’t even remember his name nor knew any further outcome. Because Beth was working on ways to “show” blind children the Navajo Weaving Exhibit it was natural for me to tell her about my “tactile” experience.
Flash forward three months.
Today is my Birthday and Beth tells me she has news for me. She had related my story to Frank, who works for The Council of the Blind Arts Division. He was the blind student and enthusiastically remembered “seeing” the Norton Allen Collection.
He got an “A” on his paper.
What a birthday present!