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Kim Christiansen: "The Gutenberg of Braille" 


Kim is an artist whose greatest asset is his boundless curiosity and inventiveness. He's constantly exploring new techniques and new media, in search of ways to make truly original art. His biggest success so far: Braille jewelry. He came up with his own technique for stamping Braille words and messages into pieces of silver. In the process, as one blind person told him, "you brought Braille to us as a thing of beauty, not just a functional tool." His most notable customer: Stevie Wonder.



It happened on December 23, 1993, just a few years after Christiansen began making jewelry, when he got a call from a friend, Jerry Kuns, a blind salesman and educator from southern California.  

"I'd been working really hard just before Christmas to get things done," he says. "I'd cleaned the place up and was out the door when the phone rang. I almost didn't go back to answer it, but I did. And it was my friend Jerry. He said 'Kim, I've got somebody who wants to talk to you.' 

I said, 'Who is it?' 

He said, 'Stevie Wonder.' 

I said, 'Yeah, right.'  

"And this guy came to the phone, and it was Stevie Wonder! 

"Jerry and his wife Theresa were at Stevie's studio in L.A., and Theresa wears my stuff a lot, and she showed it to Stevie. He was enthralled by it, and wanted me to do a  piece for his girlfriend for Christmas -- the day after tomorrow, you know. So I stayed up all night, got it done, put it on Delta Dash, and he got it the next day. 

"He loved it, and his girlfriend loved it." 

The famous clients might catch the eye, but it's the everyday people who touch his heart. Like the woman he met at a conference, who had a crucifix bearing the Braille words "Love" and "God." It was gold plated over sterling silver; but most of the plating had worn away. Christiansen offered to replace it; the woman refused. "She said, 'I gave this as a gift to a woman who was dying of cancer. And she had my cross in her hands, and she would rub it every day. That's why the cross is so worked, you know.'" 

Or another of his satisfied customers: "This woman sent me a picture of her blind daughter, sitting on her bedside with her pendant, just rubbing her pendant. She said, 'My daughter just cherishes her pendant, she wears it all the time.' 

His blind customers are often profoundly touched by his jewelry. But he's attracted plenty of sighted customers, because of the simple beauty of his pieces -- and the added bonus of a "hidden" message. He sells a set of earrings that say "Harmony" on one ring and "Serenity" on the other. "People have said they put them on in the morning because the know they're going to have a rough day. They feel like the earrings are supportive, and they like the fact that it's sort of a secret." 

Of course, if they hand it to a blind person the secret's out. 

Read the rest of Christiansen's story in my book, including his adventures collecting manhole cover rubbings and his long-distance relationship with a British woman.  
Read excerpts from my interviews with Christiansen: how he came up with the ideas for Braille jewelry and manhole cover rubbings. 
Visit his website to see pictures of his art and order his creations. 

Contact me by e-mail at john (at) johnswalters (dot) com.