Fort Worth

Amon Carter museum makes paintings accessible to visually impaired visitors

Shawn Keen had never visited the Amon Carter Museum of American Art because he couldn’t see the paintings and other artwork.

But Keen, who is blind, went to the museum for the first time Wednesday for a special tactile exhibit of several paintings from the museum’s permanent collection.

“There is no accessible way of viewing art rather than having someone come with me” to describe it, he said. “There is no accessible way for me to enjoy museums.”

Keen, who is an assistive-technology trainer at the Lighthouse for the Blind in Fort Worth, said he would like to spend more time at the museum now that there is a way for him to enjoy art and learn about its history.

The Amon Carter is offering special tours so that visually impaired visitors can experience raised pictures and detailed audio descriptions of several paintings, including The Fall of the Cowboy by Frederic Remington, and Parson Weems’ Fable, which depicts George Washington cutting down a cherry tree.

Peggy Sell, the museum’s interpretation manager, said the museum realized that blind visitors didn’t have a way to experience the art.

She contacted the Meadows Museum, which has accessible exhibits, and the Lighthouse for the Blind for guidance in creating the tactile drawings.

Employees from the Lighthouse evaluated the drawings after they were created by Visual Aid Volunteers of Dallas.

As Sell described Grant Wood’s painting Parson Weems’ Fable, Keen and other visitors touched the raised drawings. The painting depicts the tale written by Mason Locke Weems of Washington chopping downa cherry tree.

It shows a man drawing back a curtain and looking at a young Washington, who confesses to his father that he cut down the cherry tree.

The painting also shows two African-Americans in the distance and a storm brewing, which could signify tension between Washington and his father or tension surrounding the issue of slavery, she said.

The raised drawing showed the ax, cherry tree and George Washington.

There were Braille labels on each drawing.

Sell also showed everyone on the tour a velvetlike curtain with pompoms to give them an idea of what the curtain looked like in the painting.

When Sell described The Fall of the Cowboy, a work by Remington from 1895, she described how the painting shows two cowboys riding along a fence. One dismounts to open a gate. The cowboys look somber and the sky is a wintry gray.

The drawing shows the cowboys and other aspects of the painting, such as a horizontal line to represent the horizon.

She had a lasso that everyone could touch.

Bill Neff, who is also visually impaired, said the raised drawings and detailed description enhanced his appreciation of the art.

“I was really impressed. The arts are so important to everyone,” Neff said. “Why can’t you experience it the same way if you are blind?”

After the tour, Keen said he listened to the audio descriptions while touching the tactile version of the paintings.

“Since I’ve seen before, I tend to imagine what it may look like,” he said. “I am a fan.”

Elizabeth Campbell: 817-390-7696, @fwstliz

If you go

The dates for the special tours are Feb. 10, April 13, June 8 and Aug. 10. Or visitors may contact the museum in advance of a visit to request the tactile drawings. Call 817-738-1933.

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