Visual Art Exhibit Becomes Accessible to Visually Impaired Thanks to 3D Printing

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As human beings, we have five senses, all of which we use on a daily basis. These senses allow us to better interpret our surroundings, share moments of joy with loved ones, and experience art, whether it be in the form of visual art or music. For the visually impaired though, visual art is not really something they can conceive of all that well. While they may have an idea of what it may look like, based on descriptions read in braille or heard from a recording or friend, they certainly are at a disadvantage when trying to admire visual art.

This is where a partnership between the Robert C. Byrd Institute (RCBI) for Advanced Flexible Manufacturing and the Huntington Museum of Art comes into play, aiming to make art more accessible to visually impaired visitors to the museum. A special exhibit has been created which features work by Dr. Stephanie Skolik, a Huntington ophthalmologist who once considered a career in art before deciding that the field of medicine was more suited for her. Entitled “Inner and Outer Vision: The Paintings of Stephanie A. Skolik, M.D.,” the exhibit includes 60 pieces by Skolik in a variety of different styles.

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Museum employee Katherine Cox looking at the 3D printed relief, holding a clay relief (left), Original painting (right)

Skolik enjoys focusing on making the lives of the visually impaired more enjoyable, so she wanted her artwork to be accessible to everyone including them. Visitors are able to listen to descriptions of the artwork, read about it in braille, and then actually touch a 3D version of it to get a ‘feel’ for what it looks like. Most of these “reliefs” are created using clay, but with the help of RCBI, one of these art pieces was 3D printed at the Advanced Manufacturing Technology Center in Huntington, West Virginia.

3D printed relief

3D printed relief

The particular relief, which is 3D printed, was created using a photograph of the painting “Joy of Love.” A design engineer for RCBI, Ron Cabacar, created a computer design and 3D model of the artwork prior to 3D printing it in a resin material. The final product, which measures 9 inches long by 7 inches wide, features a raised, touchable image.

“It is really true to the painting,” explained Katherine Cox, the education director of the Huntington Museum of Art. “If you are visually impaired, you have to rely on your senses. With this, you can feel it.”

This goes to show that even the visually impaired can enjoy art in almost the same fashion as the rest of us, given the proper technology and the volunteers willing to make it happen.

“From 3D-printing the designs sketched by artists to production of personalized patient care devices, the scope of 3D Printing is flourishing,” explained Charlotte Weber, Director and CEO of RCBI. “RCBI is excited to help expand the canvas of artists and painters.”

What do you think about the use of 3D printing in bringing visual arts to the visually impaired? Is this a feasible option? Discuss in the 3D Printed Art for the Visually Impaired forum thread on 3DPB.com.

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