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Tactile prototypes enable visually impaired visitors to perceive colours in a painting at museum in Montreal
One of the prototypes developed by Patricia Bérubé inspired by the artwork Banner for the exhibition "Prisme d'Yeux," 1948, by Alfred Pellan. © Succession Alfred Pellan / SODRAC (2018). Photo Christine Guest.

MONTREAL.- With the aim of making art accessible to everyone, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts is making available two prototypes to visually impaired visitors that will enable them, by means of touch, to appreciate the colours in a painting by Alfred Pellan in the MMFA’s collection. Developed by Patricia Bérubé, a master’s student in art history at the Université de Montréal, this novel tool on display in the level S1 in the Claire and Marc Bourgie Pavilion gives people with a visual disability a new way to connect with art.

This innovative initiative, which involves Alfred Pellan’s 1948 work Banner of the exposition “Prisme d’Yeux” opens up new avenues for enriching the museum experience of visitors dealing with barriers, including difficulties with perceiving colour and two-dimensional images such as those in painting. Available to the public, the tactile prototypes enhance the guided tours the Museum has offered to blind and visually impaired visitors since 2015.

“The Museum’s teams work tirelessly every day to offer experiences adapted to visitors with specific needs. Created in collaboration with numerous representatives from organizations and participants, these experiences, are aimed at meeting their expectations. That’s why Patricia Bérubé’s research is highly relevant, since it provides a unique solution for people living with a visual impairment,” said Thomas Bastien, the MMFA’ Director of Education and Wellness.

«Chaque jour, les équipes du Musée travaillent sans relâche pour offrir des expériences sur mesure destinées à des personnes ayant des besoins particuliers. Créées en collaboration avec une multitude de responsables d’organismes et des participants, ces expériences ont pour objectif de répondre aux attentes de chacun et de chacune ! Et c’est pour cette raison que la recherche de Patricia Bérubé, qui apporte une solution unique à des personnes vivant avec une déficience visuelle, est d’une grande pertinente».

“My project arose out of a desire to make painting accessible to people with vision problems. With these relief prototypes, they can now explore the beauty of a painting with their fingertips. A whole world of shapes and colours now opens up to them,” explained Patricia Bérubé, designer of the tactile prototypes.

Patricia Bérubé’s tactile prototypes
With a background in 3D animation and art history, Patricia Bérubé is especially interested in tactile perception in the blind and the visually impaired. As part of her master’s project, which she began in September 2016, she has developed two prototypes for the tactile interpretation of a two-dimensional work. These separate prototypes render the shapes and colours of Pellan’s Banner of the exposition “Prisme d’Yeux” in relief. Chosen for its simple, clearly delineated shapes, the work was reproduced on a sheet of Plexiglas in half-size scale, by combining 3D printing techniques and silicone moulds.

A first prototype re-creates the contours of the work’s geometric shapes (rectangles, circles, diamonds, triangles) in relief so that the configuration can be understood by the fingertips. The second (see above image) translates the work’s colour palette into a variety of textures that make it possible to understand the positioning of each of the colours (black, red, white and grey), which are identified in a Braille legend.

In developing the prototypes, Ms. Bérubé assessed the selected textures and the functionality of the prototypes in a group of 13 people with various visual impairments. “People must have the right to use this type of program. I think it’s essential. We forget at this moment that we no longer see. We’re really in our world; we see it. And we forget that we’re blind; we see [the work] in our own way,” said Jean-Daniel Aubin, a participant in the project.

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