Kentucky

MiM 005 – Embroidery Museum in Louisville, Kentucky

Confession:  I have never even tried embroidery.

I’ve done some crocheting when I was younger.  Took up knitting when I was older, but I have never gotten the hang of working with a needle and thread.  The closest was sewing lessons, but all I made was an apron and I was done.  The pinnacle of my needle and thread work is being able to sew a button on a shirt really, really good (I mean, like, that button is never coming off again).

I have always loved artisan crafts and admire the skill involved in producing a functional work of art by a master.  A friend introduced me to the John C. Campbell Folk School and I love to flip through their catalog of classes each year, but always figured I just don’t have the skills necessary to master any of these classes.  Recently though, I’ve become intrigued by Temari balls.  I had no idea of their connection to the art of needlecraft until I visited the Embroidery Museum in Louisville, Kentucky when Gwen shared with me how Temari balls were her gateway into the art of embroidery and needlecraft.

Sitting down with Gwen Nelson, past president of the Embroiderer’s Guild of America (EGA) and Cynthia Welch, EGA Administrator, opened my eyes to the beautiful world of embroidery and needlecraft.   The EGA operates the Embroidery Museum, which is both a museum and the headquarters of EGA.  The museum is small, and when you enter, you feel like you’re walking into a private art gallery.  And after you listen to this episode, I think you’ll agree that the amazing work and creativity by the embroiderers in this collection showcase how what started as a functional craft can be transformed into art.

Embroidery Museum front door

Embroidery Museum entrance

Embroidery Museum building

Embroidery Museum building

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Museum Highlights:

Doll House – created by multiple members of EGA, this is the penultimate doll house.  The “tiniest” details are embroidered into the furnishings – from the EGA logo in the chair cushion to the A-B-C sampler on the wall.

3 story doll house with hand embroidered furnishings

Doll house with hand embroidered furnishings

Doll house chair with EGA logo embroidered into seat cushion

Doll house chair with EGA logo embroidered into seat cushion

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Room inside doll house - check out the A-B-C sampler on the wall

Room inside doll house – check out the tiny A-B-C sampler above the fireplace

Doll house couch with hand embroidered coverings

Doll house couch with hand embroidered coverings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Harold Gordon Band Sampler – featuring one of the “men of EGA” Harold Gordon’s love of embroidery started in 1944 when he was wounded and lying in a hospital bed.  A Red Cross nurse brought in some embroidery for patients to do (maybe to keep them quiet?).  In his later years, while visiting his wife in the hospital every day, Harold re-awakened his love of embroidery and created this sampler.  Note his 3-ring binder that is filled with his practice stitches.  Since samplers were considered practice pieces, who knew you had to practice before the practice?

Harold Gordon band sampler showcasing different practice stitches

Harold Gordon band sampler

Close-up of stitches in one band of Harold Gordon's band sampler

Close-up of stitches in one band of Harold Gordon’s band sampler

Harold Gordon's practice book of stitches

Harold Gordon’s practice book of stitches

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blackwork example stitch (although technically it's not blackwork because it's using blue thread)

Blackwork example stitch (although technically it’s not blackwork because it’s using blue thread)

Blackwork – a type of running, open stitch where the back should look the same as the front, blackwork is shown in this band sampler (although this is using blue thread).  There is also red work (red thread on white fabric) and white work (white thread on white fabric).  This is just the beginning of the wide variety of stitches and techniques used throughout the years in embroidery.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Muriel Baker “Stumpwork”stumpwork is a raised form of embroidery where stitched figures are raised from the surface resulting in a 3-D raised effect.  This piece shows that effect in both the figures of the man and woman in the design.

An example of "stumpwork" which creates a 3-D effect

An example of “stumpwork” which creates a 3-D effect

An example of "stumpwork" which creates a 3-D effect

Side view of stumpwork to better see the raised, 3-D effect of the man and woman figures

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lucy Chase Canvas – dated to 1834, Lucy was 8-years-old when she completed this embroidery canvas.  Lucy’s granddaughter donated this piece to the museum.  8 years old — are you kidding me?  The details and shading in this piece are amazing.  What was I doing at 8 years old?  Probably riding my bike, reading, and just generally goofing off.  Certainly not creating works of art.

Lucy Chase canvas - created when she was 8 years old

Lucy Chase canvas – created when she was 8 years old

Details of Lucy Chase's canvas showing exquisite shading with the thread

Details of Lucy Chase’s canvas showing subtle shading with the thread

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hunting Scene – the silk thread in this 1820 hunting scene from Austria brings a sheen to the piece and is an example of surface embroidery where the threads are stitched on top of the fabric or canvas instead of through it.  The detail in this hunting scene is fantastic – you could almost feel the hair on the horse and the delicate wings of the butterfly.

Hunting scene using the surface embroidery technique

Hunting scene using the surface embroidery technique

Hunting scene detail of butterfly and bird

Hunting scene detail of butterfly and bird

Hunting scene detail of horse and rider

Hunting scene detail of horse and rider

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An example of crewelwork - one of my favorite pieces

An example of crewelwork – one of my favorite pieces

Crewelwork – Margaret Parshall, first president of EGA, in the 1940s created this example of crewelwork.  I really liked the look of this piece.  A beautiful dusty blue color, this technique is also referred to as the Jacobean style, which is a type of embroidery using wool giving the piece a slightly fuzzy look.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Crane on blue background

Crane on blue background

Crane on Blue Background – created by Dr. Young Chung, this is another example of surface embroidery.  The piece the museum has is about 6” x 6” and is incredibly fine, detailed work.  What’s even more amazing?  Dr. Chung actually has the original wall-sized piece in her studio (yes, wall-sized).  Who has the patience to embroider a piece the size of a wall?

 

 

 

 

 

Mourning sampler as indicated by the harp scene

Mourning sampler as indicated by the harp scene

Mourning Sampler – this sampler is unique because it’s obviously a work-in-progress.  The designs are at odd angles, you can tell the designer is trying out stitches.  It’s a “mourning” sampler due to the harp.  Although the artist isn’t known for sure, it has been dated to the 1870s.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Adam & Eve samplers - done by yet another impressive 8 year old

Adam & Eve samplers – done by yet another impressive 8 year old

Adam & Eve Sampler – also done by an 8-year-old (seriously, these 8-year-olds are impressive) and dated to 1789, this sampler shows Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.  Unique to this garden though is a picket fence.   I think that’s known as creative license.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Village Belle – stunning in both the size (29” x 19”) and the emotion radiating from the female figure, this is an amazing example of the power of embroidery in the hands of contemporary artist Liesl Cotta De Souza.  The subtle shading in the background is a form of “needle painting” and this technique also brings out the flesh tones and the richness of the fabric in her dress.

Village Belle - magnificent emotive piece; even the background is embroidered

Village Belle – magnificent emotive piece; even the background is embroidered

Close-up of Village Belle piece showing stitching detail

Close-up of Village Belle piece showing stitching detail

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ebikhil – this seems like an odd piece at first.  On the front side is a man framed random threads just tangled and interweaving a frame around the central figure.  Flip it over though and all those random threads suddenly forms people, mountains, trees, fish, a sunrise, and numerous other animals.  I cannot even begin to figure out how to the creator figured this out and made this work.  Mind blowing.

Front side of piece - notice all the "random" threads framing the central figure

Front side of piece – notice all the “random” threads framing the central figure

Back side of the same piece - all the "random" threads are now animals, people, fish, and mountains

Back side of the same piece – all the “random” threads are now animals, people, fish, and mountains

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Audrey Francini bench showcasing crewelwork

Audrey Francini bench showcasing crewelwork

Audrey Francini Bench – another example of crewelwork, works by this artist are sold at auction for thousands of dollars.  Proof that this craft has arrived as a legitimate art form and is recognized as such by others.

 

 

 

Wall Tapestry of the U.S. – Made of multiple panels worked on by stitchers across the U.S.A., each person worked on the part of the U.S. they were from and then the pieces were put together over six years.  All different techniques are shown.  My favorite?  The gopher is pretty cute, and I’ve always been partial to beaded snakes.

Wall tapestry of the U.S.A. made by stitchers from all across the country

Wall tapestry of the U.S.A. made by stitchers from all across the country

Wall tapestry close-up; check out the gopher

Wall tapestry close-up; check out the gopher

Wall tapestry close-up; check out the gopher

Wall tapestry close-up showing a 3-D butterfly

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wall tapestry close-up; many different techniques are shown including beading in this snake

Wall tapestry close-up; many different techniques are shown including beading in this snake

Wall tapestry of the midwest section

Wall tapestry of the Midwest section

Wall tapestry showing needle-lace trees

Wall tapestry showing needle-lace trees

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chinese portrait – when I first saw this piece, I actually thought it was a black and white photograph of a woman from the 1940’s.  I thought maybe it was the artist that created the piece next to it.  Nope.  Created in 2000 by the artist Huijun, this is an embroidered portrait of her grandmother from a 1940s photograph.  The technique used in this piece of silk embroidery is a style from China called Su Embroidery that was celebrated, banned and then resurrected.  What makes this style so realistic?  The silk thread is split and then split and then split again so it’s barely the width of a human hair.  Wow.  For more information on this form of embroidery, check out this article from the Art of Silk.

Absolutely stunning example of Chinese Su embroidery using silk threads the width of a human hair

Absolutely stunning example of Chinese Su embroidery using silk threads the width of a human hair

Close-up of Su embroidery technique

Close-up of Su embroidery technique

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I could not capture a good picture, but this Tiger is a gorgeous example of thread painting

I could not capture a good picture, but this Tiger is a gorgeous example of thread painting

Tiger – a stunning example of thread painting by Jan Jellins, I could not get a good picture of this piece due to reflections on the glass.  However, it’s aptly named “thread painting” because it literally looks like a painting.  The tiger is fantastic and very life-like and stares right back at you.  As Cynthia noted in the episode, there are six different colors in the eyes alone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Florentine Sampler – if you’re a little intimidated, this piece should reassure you that not everything needs to be perfect.  Listen to the episode to hear Rand Duren from EGA share why he likes this piece, which hangs right by his desk at work.   Just a little reminder everyday that we’re not always perfect, but we’re still beautiful.  And if you want to see a picture of the Florentine sampler, EGA actually has notecards available to purchase online using the colorful blocks from this design.

"Needlework done by the mouth" - find out what that means in the episode

“Needlework done by the mouth” – find out what that means in the episode

“Needlework done with the Mouth” – If you listen all the way to the end, you’ll be rewarded with an incredible story of how Martha A. Honeywell made this piece.  An incredible story showcasing how someone’s love for the craft didn’t stop them from creating beautiful, delicate pieces despite a physical handicap.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Embroidery Museum highlights my love for artisan crafts.  Combining both the functional and artistic sides, embroidery embellishes and personalizes everyday objects.  Not just for “little old ladies sitting on their front porch” this museum showcases where the craft started, how people engaged with it over time, and contemporary artists that are pushing the boundaries of what it can be.  I am so thankful that I found this museum and was able to share their stories with you.

If you’re a museum nerd like me, then you have got to add this museum to your “must-see” list and tell them, “I heard about you on the Made in Museums podcast.”

If you love to document your travels to off-the-beaten-path places, then show me where you’re heading or where you’ve been by sharing your stories with me at Made in Museums on Facebook,  Twitter, and Instagram.  If you want to let me know about a curious museum that you’ve visited, and that I should cover on this show, contact me through social media or just send me an email.

Resources:

Embroiderer’s Guild of America website

Find a Chapter – want to learn more about embroidery or any type of needlecraft?  Check out EGA’s website for a list of chapters to find a local chapter close to you.

Classes – EGA offers in-person classes at their annual event, through correspondence courses, or online.  Check out their full list and maybe find something that you’ve always wanted to try (there’s even a course for Temari balls!).

60th Anniversary Diamond Jubilee – if you’re in the Louisville, Kentucky area on October 3-7, 2018, then check out their 60th celebration.  We talk about some of the activities in this episode, but we don’t even begin to scratch the surface.

Travel Guide – I’ve created a travel guide for this museum highlighting the “must-see” items in the collection and any other information I thought might be helpful when planning your visit to this incredible museum.

Gift Shop – as part of supporting these great independent museums, check out the online gift shop.  Rand mentions the Florentine notecards in this episode, but check out their great online gift shop to find everything they offer.

If you are visiting the Embroidery Museum, don’t forget to check out the Museum for the American Printing House for the Blind also located in Louisville, Kentucky.  Check out that podcast episode and show notes for details.

MiM 004 – Museum of the American Printing House for the Blind in Louisville, Kentucky

Confession:  I love manufacturing.

I work in the manufacturing industry, so when my travels combine both a factory and a museum – sign me up!  Have you ever watched the television show, “How Things Are Made”?  I am completely sucked in when I come across an episode – I’ve even recorded it (check my DVR if you don’t believe me.)  I’ve worked in product development at various manufacturing companies for years and I still love watching how an idea gets turned into a physical product.  Pair that with a museum that covers a niche topic like the history of Braille – something we probably all sort of learned in school, but really don’t know a lot about — and then showcases incredible individuals that take what everyone thinks of as a life sentence and completely flips it around is a definite must-see on my travel to-do list.   So that’s how I found myself at the Museum of the American Printing House for the Blind  located in Louisville, Kentucky.

Museum of the American Printing House for the Blind building in Louisville, Kentucky

Museum of the American Printing House for the Blind

On a beautiful Friday morning, I sat down with Michael Hudson, Director of the Museum of the American Printing House for the Blind.  The organization (also referred to as APH) is a unique combination of both a printing house and a museum with a distinctive focus – preserving and presenting the remarkable contributions of people who are blind, and the history of printing materials for the blind or visually impaired community.

I’ll admit that my experience with history of Braille is sparse.  I knew Louis Braille developed it, and it was made up of different dot patterns, but really nothing beyond that.  As I talked to Michael, the whole fascinating story of “tactile” writing emerged.

 

 

 

The museum tour is like a 3-in-1 experience:

First, there is the museum itself, which starts with the history of tactile languages, the development of Braille and the “war of the dots,” in the 19th century and leads up to contemporary examples of people and technology impacting the blind or visually impaired community today.

Second, is the factory tour of the printing house itself – this is where you’ll see Braille books being printed, tactile graphics being made, and even the original mechanical machines (like the “old Pearl”) that are still used for specialized tasks today.

Third, is a little side trip into the educational materials the APH has created to improve the lives of blind or visually impaired children.  It’s amazing the creativity and dedication of this organization as they continue to develop new products to help kids in the classroom.

Museum Tour Highlights:

The museum is broken up into two galleries:  the 1883 Gallery, which focuses on the history of the APH and its contributions over the years; and the Callahan Gallery, which focuses on the history and education of blind people.  If you can’t visit the museum in person, you check out a virtual tour on their website.

Temple Entrance – as you enter the museum, there is a large covered gateway with ancient tactile languages.  I never thought about how ancient languages were designed to communicate both by touch and visually – carved into stone or tablets – and that these languages could be read by the eyes or by the fingers.

Fire Doors – look closely behind the exhibits as you enter the 1883 Gallery and you’ll see huge fire doors – another nod to the original 1883 factory building.  The doors have a cable attached with a weight at the end and a little metal strip that melts at 200°F.  If there was a fire in the factory, the metal strip would melt and the large metal door slides across shutting off that part of the factory.  I love seeing the old bones of a building providing hidden touches of history.

Image of Valentin Hauy who created the first school for the blind in France

Valentin Haüy – created the first school for the blind in France

Valentin Haüy – this is the man that really started it all by creating the first school for the blind and visually impaired in Paris, France.  Michael tells an incredible story of what some blind people had to do to earn a living, which stirred Haüy into deciding there had to be another option which provided opportunities and kept a person’s dignity.

Image of Francois Leseuer who is the first student at Hauy's school in France

Francois Lesueur – first student at Haüy’s school in France

Francois Lesueur – Haüy’s first student.  One of his jobs was to pick up Haüy’s mail every day.  Haüy had a side job as a translator for the King of France and would occasionally receive embossed invitations from the King.  Lesueur could “read” the embossing on the invitations, which gave Haüy the idea to develop “raised letter” books for the blind.

 

 

 

 

 

War of the Dots – many systems were developed in the early 19th century; even different countries had different systems.  Most initially started with just raising the letters of the existing alphabet, but the curves in writing weren’t always clear.  So then different typefaces were developed to make it easier to read the raised letters with your fingers.

Moon Type – an example of one of several different “arbitrary codes”  that were developed.  It was kind of based on the alphabet, but used different symbols for the letters.

Hauy's earliest example of the "raised letter" writing he developed

Haüy’s earliest example of the “raised letter” writing he developed

Example of 19th Century raised letter writing

Example of 19th Century raised letter writing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Example of Moon Type - a "arbitrary code" writing system

Example of Moon Type – an “arbitrary code” writing system

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Image of Louis Braille who inventor of the Braille writing code

Louis Braille – inventor of the Braille writing code

Louis Braille – born in 1809, Louis was the son of a harness maker and became blind due to an accident with his father’s tools.  Amazingly, Louis happened to live in France and was sent to Haüy’s school for the blind in Paris.  How was the Braille system developed?  It’s a fascinating story of a French soldier, a code called night writing, and a young boy with the smarts to simplify and build a new system that revolutionized communication for the blind.

 

 

 

 

Slate & Stylus writing tool

Slate & Stylus writing tool

Slate & Stylus – at this time, a blind person could read printed books but had no way to write notes themselves.   Another technological leap forward was the slate and stylus.  A rectangular tablet with a perforated bar that slid across the page allowed a person using a stylus – like a punch or an awl – to finally write Braille on-the-go.   Consider it kind of the first portable, personal tool for writing Braille.

Hall Braille Writer (top, in case) and Perkins Braille Writer (bottom)

Hall Braille Writer (top, in case) and Perkins Braille Writer (bottom)

Hall Braille Writer & Perkins Braille Writer – the Hall Braille writer was a mechanical device invented by an American named Frank Hall 70 years after the slate and stylus was invented.  Hall was a superintendent for the Illinois School for the Blind and developed the Hall Braille writer in 1892 in conjunction with a local typewriter company in Chicago.

The Perkins Braille Writer is really the penultimate modern Braille writer.  Solid, dependable, reliable — the company still makes these today.  And you get to try one of these machines in the museum.  I wrote my name – totally cool!  (If you visit with kids, then check this exhibit out.)

The museum has over 40 different mechanical Braille writers in their collection, but the Hall and Perkins are the iconic representatives of this technology.

30” Globe – how do you represent the world to someone who can’t see it?  Globes with raised mountains and recessed rivers can let a child explore the world with their fingertips.  Originally wooden maps were hand carved, which was labor intensive and more expensive to produce.

30" World Globe with raised geography

30″ World Globe with raised geography

Wooden map that had to be hand carved

Wooden map that had to be hand carved

 

Stevie Wonder's baby grand stage piano used while in school

Stevie Wonder’s baby grand stage piano used while in school

Stevie Wonder’s Piano – a stage, baby grand piano, this was the piano Stevie Wonder used while attending the Michigan School for the Blind.  I had no idea that Stevie Wonder had his first hit song at the age of 12 and was touring the country, which posed a problem for the Detroit Board of Education.  Being blind posed an additional challenge.  So how could Stevie keep touring and keep up with his studies?  Listen to the episode to find the ingenious solution that really allowed Stevie Wonder to develop into the superstar of today.

 

 

 

 

 

1959 World Book Encyclopedia printed in Braille

1959 World Book Encyclopedia printed in Braille

1959 World Book Encyclopedia – the picture won’t do this justice, but this is a staggering display of the largest Braille project ever done.  Braille takes up more space than the same standard printed book – and this exhibit shows that.  It also shows the dedication of the APH staff to make sure that information was available to everyone.  Now, of course, all that information can be found on the cell phones in our pocket.  It’s amazing the technology that has developed over the last several decades.  Where will we go in the future?

 

 

 

 

 

Factory Tour Highlights:

Example of tactile graphic and the printed graphic of the moon phases

Example of tactile graphic and the printed graphic of the moon phases

Tactile Graphics – I never thought about how blind would be able to “see” a graphic image.  Well, they’ve figured it out at APH – layers and layers and layers of a specialized ink printed on top of each other causes the ink to build up on the paper creating raised images.  How was this discovered?  Experimentation.  Another reason why manufacturing companies need to give their employees the time and freedom to play with new ideas.

 

Proofreading – team of two people.  A Braille reader that reads out loud every word, paragraph and punctuation mark.  The other person is a copy reader.  As the Braille reader reads the Braille text out loud, the copy reader follows along in the printed text to make sure everything matches.  Attention to accuracy is key – if there is a typographical error in the print version, then APH will reproduce it in the Braille version.

 

 

Stereograph machine orignally used to manually translate printed text into Braille

Stereograph machine orignally used to manually translate printed text into Braille

Stereograph – how Braille translations were originally created – manually, by hand – before the current digital process.  Someone sat at this machine, read the printed text, and then literally transcribed the text one Braille character at a time.  It’s sort of like play chords on a piano – the keys to form each Braille letter are pushed down at the same time.

Tip – a single Braille character is made up of a “cell” which is a combination of 6 dots – 3 high and 2 wide.  Corresponding to the letters in the standard English alphabet, it even includes ways to add punctuation and capitalization.

Correcting tongs (the Braille version of whiteout)

Correcting tongs (the Braille version of whiteout)

Correcting Tongs – what if someone made a mistake on the stereograph machine? Then you had to use a set of correcting tongs to punch in the missing dot or flatten out a wrong dot.

 

Pearl machine used to print tactile graphics using plates

Pearl machine used to print tactile graphics

Pearl – one of Michael’s favorite machines, the Pearl sort of looks and operates like a sewing machine.  Used for making tactile graphics plates, the Pearl is still great at producing volume prints of tactile graphics.

 

 

 

 

 

Little Pearl Companion printed special map characters

Little Pearl Companion printed special map characters

“Little Pearl Companion” – a very specialized machine for making map symbols.  Bought in July 1906, the Little Pearl still works today.  How many other machines from the turn of the century are working today?  I love seeing old machinery still functioning and still valued today.

Nemeth Code – how does Braille work for mathematics?  Well, that’s where Abraham Nemeth comes into the picture.  Hear his full story in the episode, but let’s just say he was a kid that loved math, but was told he couldn’t pursue that dream because he was blind.  Go into sociology they said, so he did.  And then couldn’t get a job.  Get an advanced sociology degree they said.  So he did, and couldn’t get a job.  Finally, he said, “I can either be an unemployed sociologist or an unemployed mathematician,” so he chose the mathematician route and adapted the existing Braille code for mathematics.  The beauty of his system is that it uses the existing Braille characters, but assigned them new mathematical meanings.  So a kid didn’t have to learn a new system, but just know the mathematical alternative for the same character.  Genius.

 

 

 

 

Heidelberg Pres - one of three presses converted to print Braille

Heidelberg Press – one of three presses converted to print Braille

Heidelberg Original Cylinder Press – a recurring theme of the APH is taking an existing technology and re-purposing it to fit the needs of printing Braille.  The three Heidelberg presses are classic examples of that ingenuity.  Originally designed for traditional printing, the APH modified them so they could use embossing plates to print Braille instead.

 

 

 

 

 

Collator is unique because it's designed to not crush the raised Braille text

Collator is unique because it’s designed to not crush the raised Braille text

Collator – this looks like a basic machine, but its unique skill is lifting, sorting, and collating pages without crushing the Braille text.  Think about that.  What kind of precision does it take to have mechanical “fingers” pick up and sort sensitive pages of Braille?  Listen to the episode to find out how it used to be done and why this basic-looking machine was such a revolution for the APH.

 

 

 

 

 

Educational Products:

This whole section of education products amazed me.  As a sighted person, I take for granted being able to see everything going on in a typical classroom.  Close your eyes and imagine a classroom.  How would you learn if you couldn’t see the board, or a presentation, or a 3D model?  Luckily, the APH thinks about that every day.  Do not skip this part of the museum tour because it really makes you think how the sighted world is translated for the blind and visually impaired.

Draftsman - used in classroom for creating quick tactile graphics on the fly

Draftsman – used in classroom for creating quick tactile graphics on the fly

Draftsman – it kind of reminded me of an Etch-A-Sketch, but this simple tool is helping teachers create quick tactile graphics in the classroom on the fly.  Imagine the teacher drawing a symbol on the board – how would a blind student “see” it?  This tool allows the student the same access to information in real-time as everyone else in the classroom.

Lots of Dots – designed to teach kids the alphabet and punctuation.  How do you capitalize in Braille?  Find out by listening to the episode.  (By the way, I totally want a Lots of Dots for myself!)

 

 

 

 

Periodic Table in Braille used in classrooms

Periodic Table in Braille used in classrooms

Periodic Table – flashing back to my Chemistry days, the periodic table is a classic tool but is also a totally visual tool.  How would you translate this visual table into a tactile form?   That’s what the APH thinks about every day.

(Oh, and if you really want to nerd out, there is a fascinating book about the Periodic Table called The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean.  In fact, all his books are excellent!)

Human Anatomy kit with tactile graphic skeleton

Human Anatomy kit with tactile graphic skeleton

Human Anatomy Kit – 3D skeleton models have been available, but how do you connect the words with the specific bones?  This tool does that and, to quote Michael, includes a “cool” quiz kit (seriously, I had to call Michael out on that – what kid thinks quizzes are cool?)

 

 

Orbit 20 – the latest product developed for both kids and adults, the “refreshable” Braille display and note taker is truly a remarkable piece of technology.  Developing a product durable enough and fast enough to translate printed text into Braille and back into printed text allows for near real-time translation.  Demand has been so great that it’s on backorder.  (Side note – as a manufacturer you always want to have products available for the people that want them, but you also know you have a good product that really serves your customers when demand exceeds supply.)

 

I think one of the most important things we can do as human beings is to try and see the world through someone else’s eyes.  What does the world look like to them?  What experiences shaped them?  How do they see things differently – and how do they see things the same as me?  The Museum of the American Printing House for the Blind is a great example of that philosophy.  As a sighted person, I can never fully understand what it’s like to be blind, but it gave me a small glimpse into the struggles facing the blind and visually impaired community and the impressive strides that have been made to overcome everyday obstacles the sighted take for granted.

The historical and interactive nature of the museum along with the impact the printing house has on kids today is a unique combination and is well worth a visit.  If you’re a museum nerd like me, then you have got to add this museum to your “must-see” list and tell them, “I heard about you on the Made in Museums podcast.”

If you love to document your travels to off-the-beaten-path places, then show me where you’re heading or where you’ve been by sharing your stories with me at Made in Museums on Facebook,  Twitter, and Instagram.  If you want to let me know about a curious museum that you’ve visited, and that I should cover on this show, contact me through social media or just send me an email.

Resources:

Museum of the American Printing House for the Blind website

Visiting Hours and Admissions – since this information could change, please visit the museum’s webpage to find the most up-to-date information.

School & Group Tours – if you’re in the Louisville, Kentucky area, the museum can host group tours.  Contact them for more details.  Trust me – the kids will get a total kick out of visiting this museum and writing their name in Braille.

Virtual Tour – If you can’t visit the museum in person, you check out their virtual tours on their website.

Travel Guide – I’ve created a travel guide for this museum highlighting the “must-see” items in the collection and any other information I thought might be helpful when planning your visit to this incredible museum.

Kentucky School for the Blind – right next door to the museum, this organization has a long history and has made important contributions to the blind and visually impaired community.  Visit their website and find ways you can support them, or search for a school in your area (schools everywhere need our support!).

MiM 002 – Ben E. Clement Mineral Museum in Marion, Kentucky

Confession:  I have always loved rocks.

During my undergrad, I had a fantastic geology teacher that had the best field trips.  We spent weekends roaming the southern countryside for pink quartz, mica schist and gneiss rocks.  Going back even further, I remember as a little kid picking through the rough gravel around the farm to find the prettiest or most interesting-shaped rocks (yep, I was a nerd from the beginning).  One of the things I always wanted, but never got, was a rock tumbler.

Even without the advanced technology of a rock tumbler, rocks that looked boring and basic on the outside revealed patterns, layers and flecks that sparkled when rinsed off and cleaned up.  They were also so different everywhere I went – commercial gravel was different than what I found on the farm versus what I found when we would visit my Mom’s family in Colorado.  The entire history of an area can be found in the ordinary rocks under our feet.

With that background, I was so excited to visit the Ben E. Clement Mineral Museum.  I’ve been to other mineral museums around the country and visited geology collections within large museums, but most of these have been more generally focused, which is great to get an overview of all different kinds of minerals that you wouldn’t ordinarily see in one place.  However, the Ben E. Clement Mineral Museum is remarkable for its singular focus – it’s all about the mineral fluorite (also known as fluorspar).  How interesting can a museum be that’s focused around just a single mineral?  Very interesting, as it turns out.

Ben E. Clement Mineral Museum

Ben E. Clement Mineral Museum – rainy days are perfect times to visit museums!

Driving to Kentucky on a rainy weekend (which, is perfect museum-visiting weather), I sat down with Ed Clement — son of the founder — of the Ben E. Clement Mineral Museum.  Located in Marion, Kentucky, the Clement Mineral Museum is a mineral museum with a very distinctive focus – the mineral fluorite.  Fluorite is probably one of the most commercially important minerals that you’ve never heard of.  Ed and I discussed the history of fluorite and the stories behind mining this mineral in Western Kentucky.  Ed is a natural storyteller and the stories he shares about his family, how the museum got started (in the backyard of his father’s house), and the backstory behind some of the objects in the collection are fascinating and really highlight his family’s personal connection to this museum.

As a huge museum nerd, I’ve visited many mineral and geology-focused collections, but I have to tell you there are objects in the Ben E. Clement Mineral Museum collection that I have never seen before.  Remember when your chemistry and geology teachers said, “You need to know this stuff because it will come in handy someday”?  Well, this is the day.

Originally this area of Western Kentucky focused on mining the mineral galena for the lead and silver content.  Fluorspar was originally a waste product of the mining process.  Then in 1873 it was discovered that fluorspar lowered the melting temperature of iron to remove impurities (flux) during smelting.  After that discovery, additional uses for fluorite in steel, aluminum, chemicals, glass, and nuclear processes lead to a mining boom in this area of Western Kentucky from 1900 – 1950 due to the unique geological forces that created a fluorspar pocket.

Ben Clement leased mines in this area and recognized the beauty in the unique, cubic structure and variety of colors found in fluorspar when it was still thought of as a by-product to be thrown away during the mining process.  His expertise and connections allowed him to collect truly unique and stunning examples of this mineral.  Some weigh hundreds of pounds while others fit into the palm of your hand, some may be damaged or broken on the outside but reveal inner beauty.   Each object in the collection is a rare specimen in the mineral world, but also carries a unique acquisition or personal family backstory.

Some of the key objects in this impressive collection include:

George Wild Family Carved Collection – one of two carved collections at the museum, this group includes animal and facet carvings in fluorspar by a world-renowned, family of carvers, led by George Wild from Idar-Obserstein, Germany.  Very expressive faces in the squirrel, owl and bear.  Fluorite is so soft that it can be carved, but too soft to be worn as jewelry.  Listen to Ed tell the story of what happened when his Mom was holding one of these carved pieces.  If you visit, see if you can spot the green one that’s “flawed” from this story. (Note – I couldn’t find a specific website about George Wild, but saw numerous references to gemstone carvings by him and found other Wild names in the gem carving industry.  Hopefully, the family carving dynasty still remains today!)

German Family of Carvers created a collection showcasing both classic facet or jeweled-shapes type of carving and animals.

German Family of Carvers created a collection showcasing both classic facet or jeweled-shapes type of carving and animals.

German Family of Carvers carving a squirrel, owl and parrot into fluorite

German Family of Carvers carving a squirrel, owl and parrot into fluorite

German Family of Carvers carving of a bear in fluorite

German Family of Carvers carving of a bear in fluorite

Purple Fluorite Cubes – beautiful examples of the variety of colors found even within a single shade of color.  There is also an interesting sample of purple fluorite sitting on top of white “dog’s tooth” calcite (look for the sharp white points on the bottom that look like teeth pointing down).

Example of the variety of shades within the single color of purple fluorite

Example of the variety of shades within the single color of purple fluorite

Example of the variety of shades within the single color of purple fluorite

Purple fluorite on top of “dog’s-tooth” white calcite.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chipping of the edges of the cubic fluorite produces perfect octahedron shapes

Chipping of the edges of the cubic fluorite produces perfect octahedron shapes

Octahedron Collection – unique to its natural cubic shape, if you chip off all the corners of the cube you get an octahedron.  Of course, you’ve got to perfectly chip off the corners at the right angles to get a perfect octahedron.  This collection is also a good example of the variety of colors found in fluorite.  Natural fluorite is clear, but various impurities create the nine different colors found.

 

 

 

"Bird in Flight" - an incredible example of black fluorite naturally formed into a the shape of a flying bird with perfect cubes form on both the top and bottom

“Bird in Flight” – an incredible example of black fluorite naturally formed into the shape of a flying bird with perfect cubes form on both the top and bottom

“Bird In Flight” – gorgeous, black fluorite specimen unique for two reasons:  its shape looks like a black bird in flight, and the fact that it’s known as a “floater”.  If you visit, look underneath the “bird” – you’ll see the same cubic shapes all over the bottom as you find on the top.  That means the fluorite cubes formed on a softer surface, which then wore away without damaging the cubic shapes.  Very rare and very unusual to find such a specimen whole and undamaged – and just wait until you hear the story of how it was found.  This is one of my favorite pieces at the museum.  Every time I looked at it during my visit, or when I see this picture, I am amazed.

 

 

 

 

Tiny, perfect, small, purple fluorite cube sitting on calcite. How did it not get damaged?

Tiny, perfect, small, purple fluorite cube sitting on calcite. How did it not get damaged?

Pale Purple Cube on Quartz – perfect, small, tiny purple cube perched right on the edge of quartz.

 

 

 

 

 

 

First fluorite specimen collected by Ben Clement. Featured in a 1920 geology book sitting above the crystal.

First fluorite specimen collected by Ben Clement. Featured in a 1920 geology book sitting above the crystal.

Close-up image of the first specimen collected. Unique for the multiple square facets across the surface of the crystal.

Close-up image of the first specimen collected. Unique for the multiple square facets across the surface of the crystal.

First Specimen Collected – a delicate shade of mauve in color, this is the first specimen Ben Clement collected and kept at his house before there was a museum.  See the book sitting above it?  This specimen came from the Holly Mine and was featured in a 1920 geology text because of the uniqueness of the specimen.  What makes it so rare?  Look very close in the image – see the multiple faces?  The twinning of the crystals during formation is incredibly unique.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Knife-edge fluorite - distinctive for its razor sharp edges

Knife-edge fluorite – distinctive for its razor sharp edges

“Knife-Edge Fluorite” – natural, high-polished finish, this specimen is slick, beautiful and dangerous.  Razor sharp edges finished to an extreme perfection.  As Ed puts it, “we’ve never seen its equal in edge sharpness in a specimen this size.”

Purple fluorite cube literally divided in half by a thin, horizontal layer of quartz

Purple fluorite cube literally divided in half by a thin, horizontal layer of quartz

Divided Cube on Quartz – perfect purple cube of fluorite split in half by the quartz it grew on.  The white quartz grew in a perfect flat plane finding a tiny crack within the fluorite that literally split the cube in two.  Incredibly rare and almost impossible to imagine how this formed and survived intact.

 

 

 

Purple fluorite cube literally divided in half by a thin, horizontal layer of quartz

Crystal Cathedral – single spire-shaped quartz growing straight up on a “roof” of fluorite

Crystal Cathedral – a quartz crystal spire sitting on a “rooftop” of purple fluorite cubes – Ed’s Mom’s favorite specimen.

Perfect "puffy" shaped ball of white calcite.

Perfect “puffy” shaped ball of white calcite.

Acicular Ball – this one is remarkable for the calcite formation on the fluorite.  Looking like a puffy white ball, this acicular ball of calcite is remarkable because all of its spikes are perfect – no breakage, damage or chips.  Now, how did that survive underground?

 

 

 

 

“Slab” Specimen Room – stepping into this darkened room filled with “slab” or cross-sections of fluorite lit from below highlights the beautiful internal patterns showing how the cube structure forms.  Similar to tree rings, you can actually see the cube rings in the cross-sections showing how the crystal grew.  Want a cool fact to drop at your next party?  Crystals are the only inorganic object that grows. Boom.

Stunning "slab" room showcasing cut cross-sections of fluorite lit from within

Stunning “slab” room showcasing cut cross-sections of fluorite lit from within

Close-up of fluorite cross-sections where you can see the "rings" of how the crystal grew.

Close-up of fluorite cross-sections where you can see the “rings” of how the crystal grew.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Corner piece chipped off reveals a tiny unique world inside

Corner piece chipped off reveals a tiny unique world inside

 

Slab Specimens Close-Up – Corner Knocked Off – it was so hard to actually get a good picture, but when you visit the museum, find this unique specimen featuring a bright, little yellow triangle on one corner.  The corner was knocked off, but this gives you a tiny view into the inside of the crystal.  Stunning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Squire Riley carved collection of animals

Squire Riley carved collection of animals

Close-up of the back of the dog showing the file marks used to create its fur

Close-up of the back of the dog showing the file marks used to create its fur

Squire Riley Carving Collection – Squire Riley was a night watchman that was a master woodcarver.  Picking up files and rasps instead of chisels, he turned to carving fluorite due to its softness (sitting at 4 on the Mohs Hardness Scale).  Looking closer at the backside of the dog, you can see the file marks used to create its “fur”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Glow-in-the-Dark Rocks – all I can say is “Wow!”.  Totally unique and rare collection.  With the room lights on, it just looks like a normal wall of ignoble rocks.  But turn off the fluorescent lights and magic happens – a wall full of glow-in-the-dark rocks!  What?  Find out why they glow in the episode, but this room will totally bring out the kid in you.  And if you happen to be visiting the museum with kids, ask them, “Can you find Nemo?”  They’ll totally get it.  (psst – if you want to see a picture of Nemo, email me and I’ll send you the secret photo).

Looks like a wall of normal igneous rocks, right? Well, wait until the lights turn off.

Looks like a wall of normal igneous rocks, right? Well, wait until the lights turn off.

Same igneous rocks, but a completely different look when the lights go out.

Same igneous rocks, but a completely different look when the lights go out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photography Collection:

After talking about some of the specimens in this collection, we moved on to the photography collection.  Photography is one of my hobbies, so it was a real treat to see photographs depicting the mining industry in the early 1900’s.  Listening to Ed tell the story of Hudson Mine collapse really brought home the dedication of the miners and the dangers they faced every day they went underground.

Hudson Mine Drain Hole – listen to how the Hudson Mine flooded when the water basin above the mine broke and flooded down into the mine.  Find out why there was essentially a lake sitting on top of the mine while the miners were digging horizontally underneath it.  In the pictures you can see the water sitting in the basin, and then see the drain hole where the water flowed down into the mine.

Hudson Mine - originally started as an "open cut" or a bowl-shape dug on the surface. Eventually this bowl filled in with water and debris

Hudson Mine – originally started as an “open cut” or a bowl-shape dug on the surface. Eventually this bowl filled in with water and debris

Hudson Mine - after the mine collapsed, the water and debris sitting on top drained down through a hole into the mine shaft below

Hudson Mine – after the mine collapsed, the water and debris sitting on top drained down through a hole into the mine shaft below

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hudson Mine - drill highlighted on the far right drilled down 900 feet

Hudson Mine – drill highlighted on the far right drilled down 900 feet

Hudson Mine Original Drill Shaft – the decision was made to drill a 900 foot shaft next to the original mine and then dig horizontally underneath the water basin.  Hear Ed tell the stories he collected from the miners that actually experienced the mine collapse and how they already had their survival plans in place because they figured the mine would collapse at some point.  And yet they still went to work every day.  Remarkable people.  Even more remarkable – all the men trapped underground for a week survived.

Hudson Mine - during the rescue operation, they built a twist drill (tripod shape in center of photograph) to drill down to the trapped miners

Hudson Mine – during the rescue operation, they built a twist drill (tripod shape in center of photograph) to drill down to the trapped miners

Hudson Mine Rescue Twist Drill – I’ve highlighted a tripod structure in the middle of this photograph.  As part of the rescue efforts, a twist drill was put together to drill down and punch a hole into the shaft below to get air to the trapper miners.  Look closely – you’ll see a man at the very top of the tripod structure.  Hear Ed tell the story of this 18-year-old and his efforts to save the trapper miners.

Hudson Mine - both national support and the local community efforts to rescue the trapped miners. The car highlighted in the bottom right is Ben Clement's car

Hudson Mine – both national support and the local community efforts to rescue the trapped miners. The car highlighted in the bottom right is Ben Clement’s car

Hudson Mine Rescue Efforts – in this photo I’ve highlighted a car in the bottom right.  Guess whose car that is?  Ben Clement, founder of the museum.  All of the people in the area were part of the rescue efforts.  Listen to Ed tell the story of how the National Guard was called in, how rescue equipment broke, how this made national news coverage, and there’s even a crazy psychic.

 

 

 

 

Additional items at the museum that we didn’t have time to cover in the podcast:

Ben E. Clement’s office – Ed literally took his entire father’s office from the basement of their family home and re-built it exactly in the museum.  The jacket his Dad wore is hanging up in the recreated office as well as his desk totally cluttered with notes, documents, books, and reference material.  On the back wall, journals filled with notes and lectures he was still giving into his eighties.  Geology texts and books dating back to the turn of the century.  In fact, Ed shared one story about randomly opening up a 1905 geological survey book to find a letter addressed to him tucked inside the book from his father.

Personal correspondence – letters from his Dad to his Mom while they were courting.   Notes from his Dad to Ed about mineral core samples pulled, where to find the reference for them, and instructions about them if “he ever opened a museum”.

Equipment used by the miners (pre-1950) – miner headlamps (that used live flames to provide illumination underground), handmade mining equipment, a 9-foot-wide flywheel that powered a mill and a 12,000 pound steam engine (located outside, of course).

Get out there and visit!

It may look unremarkable from the outside, but the Ben E. Clement Mineral Museum is a truly spectacular museum.  No fancy signage, no fancy building, old-fashioned typed labels – this is exactly the type of museum I want to showcase on my podcast.  Highlighting these hidden treasures built from a focused passion with more stories housed in one building than you could cover in a single visit.  If you’re a museum nerd like me, then you have got to add this museum to your “must-see” list and tell them, “I heard about you on the Made in Museums podcast.”

If you love to document your travels to off-the-beaten-path places, then show me where you’re heading or where you’ve been by sharing your stories with me at Made in Museums on Facebook,  Twitter, and Instagram.  If you want to let me know about a curious museum that you’ve visited, and that I should cover on this show, contact me through social media or just send me an email.

Resources:

Ben E. Clement Museum website

Gem, Mineral, Fossil & Jewelry Show – the museum hosts this annual event.  2018 marks its 13th year and was held on June 2nd and 3rd.  Check the museum’s webpage  about the show for additional information and future dates.

School Programs – if you live near Marion, Kentucky, the museum also hosts programs for school groups.  This would be a fantastic place for kids to explore and learn.

Visiting Hours and Admissions – since this information could change, please visit the museum’s visitor info webpage to find the most up-to-date information.

Travel Guide – I’ve created a travel guide for this museum highlighting the “must-see” items in the collection and any other information I thought might be helpful when planning your visit to this incredible museum.