Early Photos of Blind People Seeing a Museum Collection


The Walrus, A group of blind children feeling the stuffed walrus at Sunderland Museum, so they can 'see' what it looks like. Courtesy Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums

Visiting a museum usually means we are going to experience objects by seeing them with our eyes. But what if you are blind?

In 1913, a remarkable curator, John Alfred Charles Deas, at the Sunderland Museum in England, wanted blind children to be able to experience objects in the museum's collection - he wanted to create a museum of touch for those who could not see. "To them, their fingers are eyes," Deas said. He started a program in which blind children were able to touch taxidermied animals including polar bears, crocodiles, birds and lions. They also heard lectures on different parts of the museum's collection and were able to touch the objects and then make drawings based on texture and what they saw in their mind's eye. The sessions were so successful that Deas opened them to adults. Sunderland Museum and Winter Garden was a remarkable place and had a great influence on programming for the blind because it demonstrated there was a different way for people to experience museum collections.

A young girl who is blind examining mounted birds at Sunderland Museum. Courtesy Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums  

Reptiles. Blind visitors to Sunderland Museum are handling the reptile specimens, including the crocodile and shells. Courtesy Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums

'Seeing Budha. Courtesy Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums

Blind adults are listening to a short lecture at Sunderland Museum before examining a human skeleton. Courtesy Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums

Post first appeared in Atlas Obscura.

Sunderland Museum, Vintage photographs

Leave a comment

Next Post Previous Post