Viva De’VIA in Olathe Kansas

Olathe De'VIA Mural 2013
De’VIA Mural 2013 – created during the Olathe, Kansas three day De’VIA: Past, Present, and Posterity retreat. Photo from Nancy Rourke

Greetings all –

just wanted to share how awesome the De’VIA retreat in Olathe, Kansas was.  The Retreat, Festival, and Gala were organized by Jeanne Ewald and her superb team of volunteers – really just EXTRAordinary folks.  Thank you thank you thank you for making those events possible.

for those of you who do not know what De’VIA is-

De’VIA –  stands for Deaf View / Image Art and is visual art about the Deaf experience.

In 1989 a group of 9 Deaf artists met before Deaf Way I in Washington DC to have a think tank about what to call art about the Deaf experience and thus coined the term Deaf View (as in point of view / perspective) Image (as in some form of visual art representation ) Art.
(see powerpoint with examples of De’VIA at

They coined the term in ASL first signing it as: Deaf View (look at) / open hand as if a canvas (represents the word concept for Image) then Art
They then abbreviated it to be De’VIA – De representing the word Deaf but not fully spelling it out so it had a foreign feel especially with the ‘ and also to bump folks out of their locked thinking of “deaf” as a pathology.  De in French means “of” so this is artwork “of” Deaf people.  The French appeal is also a nod of appreciation to Laurent Clerc the French Deaf man who came to the US to help found the first permanent bilingual Deaf school and imported in French Sign language.

The creators of De’VIA do not have to be Deaf but they must intend to represent the Deaf experience in their work and hence De’VIA is most often created by Deaf folks themselves.

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Kansas School for the Deaf with De’VIA Banner on front lawn (artwork by Diane Squire on the banner). Photo by Jenny Witteborg.

The summer of 2014 will mark the 25th anniversary of De’VIA.  When De’VIA’s 20th anniversary had been approaching Chuck Baird, one of the most well known De’VIA artists and one of the signatories of the De’VIA manifesto, had wanted to see some type of retreat and celebration but alas at that time people did not express a strong interest.  Sadly, Chuck Baird died on February 10, 2012 of cancer and did not live to see a De’VIA re-treat.  Nor did Dr.  Betty G. Miller.

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Photo of De’VIA retreat t-shirt and name tags with Ellen Mansfield’s artwork.

Chuck had bestowed upon Betty G. Miller the title of the mother of Deaf View/Image Art because of her steadfast devotion and commitment to art about the Deaf experience – from her teaching, the first one woman show featuring works of truths about the Deaf experience – both affirmation and resistance, to her buying property in Austin, Texas for the Deaf artists colony, Spectrum, to be run, to her hosting the 1989 Deaf View/Image Art think tank, to all of her De’VIA works and her encouraging of up and coming artists.  It is a just right and good title.  Sadly too Betty G. Miller has recently passed of a toxic bacterial infection on December 3, 2012 and was not able to be at the De’VIA retreat this past July in body but both, Chuck and Betty, were surely there in spirit.

If Betty is to be known as the Mother of De’VIA perhaps Chuck shall be come to be known as the King of De’VIA.  He was at Spectrum, the Deaf artists colony and not only created art, acted, and worked on the newsletter, he also constructed the summer festival tents, renovated the horse stalls and barn into workable conditions for the artists, he has also served as artist in residence for many Deaf schools and programs all over the US, was one of the signatories of the De’VIA manifesto, coordinated the international artists and shows for Deaf Way II and has encouraged many many emerging De’VIA artsts.  He also performed in many National Theatre of the Deaf productions, including the King of Hearts where every night on stage he created artistic scenes live during the performances.

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Deaf Cultural Center (DCC), directly across from the Kansas School for the Deaf in Olathe, Kansas, features a museum, gift store, several artworks by notable Deaf artists, and a beautiful meeting place. Photo by Jenny Witteborg.

So while we deeply missed their presence at the Olathe, Kansas De’VIA retreat 2013 – I know they would be thrilled with what transpired.  Kansas School for the Deaf in Olathe was the perfect place for this retreat as Chuck graduated from this school and it is overflowing with GREAT De’VIA pieces.  Not just works of art by Chuck, but many beautiful pieces by students (see bottom of this entry for examples).  it is wonderful to see a school that values De’VIA so much.  I am sure without a doubt that Betty and Chuck would be VERY pleased with the three-day De’VIA retreat.  Everyday was busy from sun up to sun down.  i wish i could accurately describe how truly wonderful of an experience it was.  Not only was it a time free of audism, it was also a time free of egos.  Folks were there to share, care and CREATE.  It really was amazing.  The guardian angel of the retreat was its primary organizer Nancy Rourke – i used to call her the Den Mother of De’VIA cuz she is always right there finding emerging artists and simply and PURELY encouraging them.  Giving them faith in themselves while challenging, stimulating, encouraging, and creating.  i do NOT know how she does it and hence her title has been upgraded to guardian angel of the 2nd Wave of De’VIA.

H Kasher betty g miller 2013
Betty Miller by Hinda Kasher. Photo by Hinda and used here with permission.

The Wine and Cheese Soiree in the Deaf Cultural Center was very enjoyable as it gave me more time to explore this wonderful museum and it allowed for several of the artists to share their works with the community.  I will forever treasure seeing Hinda Kasher explaining ALL of the symbolism in her four piece artwork honoring Betty G. Miller.  It is just a pow pow piece and Betty and Chuck were all about promoting new and up in coming De’VIA artists.  To see such a young person CARE and DARE as much as Hinda does ! and for her to honor Betty such – well i just KNOW Betty would have gotten a big WOW out of it.  Much gratitude to Hinda for honoring Betty’s herstory and dedication to the Deaf-world and ASL.

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De’VIA totem. Photo by Tracey Salaway


Probably one of the biggest high lights of the whole retreat was the creation of the De’VIA mural at the Olathe retreat.  I hope at another time to be able to do a blog entry about the 1989 Mural and the 2013 mural so wont go into detail here except to say it was an EXCEPTIONAL experience.  Just completely fascinating to see the process and to SEE how the organic kept emerging.  How folks negotiated concepts, ideas, visions, spaces to all come together and just shock the socks off of all of us.  Just wow.  The same is true of the De’VIA totem yet on a smaller scale since it had less room to work with but still almost everyone who had worked on the mural contributed to to the totem also – just not everyone at its side at the same time.  Just as the totem has a nod to De’VIA’s for-bearer via the sun logo – IE – Spectrum, Deaf Artist colony – the 2013 De’VIA Mural has a reference to the 1989 De’VIA via the Pyramid figure.

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Lovely Ruth Ann Wilding, Chuck Baird’s sister, share a bit of her brother with us. De’VIA mural corner in the background. Photo from DCC.

Then to see the totem and mural displayed at the Gala honoring Chuck Baird – front and center and beautifully lit up – i think all of us were just like WOW.  It was incredible.

The Gala was a truly touching tribute to Chuck Baird.

During the live auction – there was a very hot bidding war for a painting that several of the De’VIA artists had created during the Olathe art festival earlier that day (the paint was probably still wet).  When we saw Hardy was one of the bidders and how much he truly truly wanted that work – it was a beauty to behold.  And to see him win it, well that is what art is all about – stirring up the heART.

Ruth Ann Wilding, Chuck Baird’s sister, shared a bit of her baby brother with us.  She really just made everything so much more important and dear to me.  Her presence at the retreat and the gala just made Chuck’s presence all the more real.  I love when she addressed him cuz i was like “yep – hi chuck.  We miss you.”  And im sure i saw him chuckling his sweet CHUCKle.

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Noah Buchholz performing at the DCC Chuck Baird Gala. Photo from DCC.

Later on Noah Buchholz re-told jokes and stories Chuck had told him.  He did a spot-on job imitating Chuck’s style & quirky humor.  Noah did a beautiful job explaining Chuck’s explanation of his Left & Right artwork (see – especially the witness chair and how we are all called to “take the stand” and testify what we know of the Deaf mind.

Noah also performed a powerful story that had been told to him by his Deaf grandmother about a Deaf girl who had died at the hands of Deaf education simply for signing and how we are called to STAND and testify these truths.  Our truths.  He did this via his artform – ASL storytelling – which Chuck too excelled at and loved.

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Ruthie Jordan with shadow imagery on the De’VIA mural as she spontaneously incorporates it into the tapestry of her live performance tribute to Chuck at the DCC gala in his honor. Photo from DCC

Ruthie Jordan also rocked the house by sharing her experiences with Chuck, performing live her lovely ABC tribute to Chuck Baird (see and then bringing the motifs and themes from the 2013 De’VIA mural to life by having these images leap off the canvas and on to her ASL hands to become part of the tapestry of Chuck’s life & work and that evenings gala.  It was priceless when Ruthie ended with signing TAKE A STAND and the audience did – they all STOOD up.  Just so thrilling.

English doesn’t even come close to honoring what these two performance artists gave to us and Chuck’s memory that evening.  I know im not explaining everything and i know im not giving recognition to everyone – its not cuz it or they aint important – its just cuz its impossible to tell ya all how much i love ya and how much i truly truly truly appreciate having had the opportunity to be part of this amazing experience.  [i havent even mentioned the midnight ER trip ; )]

NOTE: The Deaf CulturalScreen shot 2013-09-01 at 7.28.57 AM Center Foundation even printed out a great De’VIA 2014-2015 Calendar

I could go on and on but you get the point –

it was grand and im forever grateful i could partake.
To all who made it possible – THANK YOU.

gratitude is the memory of the heart ~ jean massieu

Video of KSD art teacher, Takako Kerns, explaining children’s mural at KSD (other short videos of KSD art at this pdurr youtube channel)


2 thoughts on “Viva De’VIA in Olathe Kansas

  1. Thank you for sharing it with us. De’VIA has enriched our life and identity. Very important part of our life!

  2. Thanks David and yes indeed De’VIA enriches our life and identity. during the De’VIA Olathe, Kansas retreat, we discussed the importance of having De’VIA in Deaf education. Feed kids the good stuff while they are young!
    I recall seeing a drawing you did of Capital D and i was VERY impressed. You got talent – hope u find time for more De’VIA making.

    much peace

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