An Encouraging Environment to Explore Creativity

July 22, 2019

The parents of Amy Monthei ’96 spotted their daughter’s artistic talents early on and provided every opportunity for her to explore that creativity. The nurturing paid off. Today, Monthei’s colorful, highly textured paintings hang in homes of private collectors and on walls of corporations such as Wells Fargo, Mayo Clinic and UnitedHealth Group. Pretty impressive for any artist, but remarkably more so for one who is legally blind.

Monthei was just several months old when her lenses were removed due to congenital cataracts. Her vision was further impaired when she was diagnosed with early onset glaucoma in her thirties. Her parents, also artists with low vision, never let their daughter use her disability as a crutch. “Blindness is an inconvenience, not a tragedy,” was the family mantra.

Monthei approached college like she did everything else, with determination. She liked that her professors were working artists and she appreciated the insights she gained from peer reviews of her work. “I learned to defend my art and to be objective as well as subjective about the creative process,” she says. After graduating with a degree in fine arts, she worked as a consultant and in various galleries in Minnesota. It wasn’t until she moved to Hawaii with her husband in 2013 that she became a full-time artist. Despite the glaucoma, she continues to show and sell her work. “I do everything I can to halt further damage to my optic nerve,” she says.

Monthei’s style has evolved over the years, but its groundwork was laid in college. “I experimented with my art a lot at Grand View because it was an encouraging environment to do so. As a working artist, it is important to try new techniques and invest the time to develop and refine those techniques.” One such evolution is her tactile Braille paintings, created to be enjoyed by those who can see as well as those who can’t. While the sighted look at the rich colors and textures, the vision-impaired experience them through touch. The enigma, says Monthei, is that each must understand what the other knows to decipher the painting’s true meaning.

“Our experiences in life shape what we create,” she says. “For me, especially, it is the desire to create work that can be touched as well as traditionally viewed.” In 2016 Monthei was commissioned to do a Braille painting for Sight Savers America and she is now an ambassador for the organization. She helps identify vision-impaired children whose lives can be enriched by high-tech assistive devices. “I was one of those kids once, using magnifying glasses and large-print books to get by as best I could in a world for sighted people. I hope my story inspires these kids to reach for their dreams.”