The first time I took Addie to the Indianapolis Museum of Art every footstep was closely followed by those of a docent, making sure my little three-year-old didn’t get out of hand. We did fine until we got to the top floor where all the contemporary art is housed. “Yes, Addie, that is a chair stuck to the wall and no, we cannot sit in it because it is art.” Perhaps I’m doing my child a horrible disservice but I just don’t understand a whole lot of contemporary art. I still take her to the IMA on occasion and only recently has she been able to understand that those pieces of yarn hanging from the ceiling are not cat toys but in fact someone’s idea of art.
I can only think of two museums in my childhood where I was allowed to touch anything and everything. I lived for those museums. One was the Exploratorium in San Francisco and the other was the Children’s Museum in Salt Lake City. We currently live in Indianapolis, home of the world’s largest children’s museum but we are also surrounded by our fair share of “no touchy” museums.
We have generally avoided the no touchy museums up to this point.
Museums allow us to see things we would never otherwise see, but what about those who cannot see? When I stumbled on the following collection of photos from the early 20th century of a museum in England that allowed blind children to come in and experience parts of the museum with their fingers? I got chills.
“To them, their fingers are eyes.” John Alfred Charlton Deas, was the former curator at Sunderland Museum in England and starting in 1913 he organized several “hands on” collections and invited children, and later adults, from schools for the blind to come experience everything from a stuffed walrus, a human skeleton to 19th century armor with their fingertips.
Images courtesy of Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums