Dorothy Tanner began working with light as her artistic medium of choice in 1967. At the time, she and her late husband, Mel Tanner, were forging a new path of futuristic minimalism in the art world. The Denver sculptor, a recipient of the 2018 Denver Mayor’s Award for Artistic Excellence and Innovation, creates sculptures out of plexiglass, colored bulbs, and other materials that range from geometric abstractions to organic forms to patterned or lettered almost two-dimensional wall hangings—all of which glow. Now, the 95-year-old is teaching a few aspiring luminaries her craft.

Tanner began instructing students in her craft in October, just after she learned she would receive the Mayor’s award in November. The next four-part class series will begin January 5. Students will spend three hours each Saturday for four weeks with Tanner and her staff at her Denver studio. With class sizes not to exceed four individuals, personal attention and hands-on help will be abundant.

A creation by one of Dorothy Tanner’s students. Photo courtesy of the Lumonics School of Light Art.

Thus far, the artist has mentored her pupils in building and ornamenting glowing cubes. Students learn to cut the plexiglass (as a solid, transparent plastic material) and build it into a structurally sound box that they can light from within with a colored bulb of their choice and ornament as they see fit.

For Tanner, this is a sensible place to start—it’s where she first began. The cube was one of the first forms she and her late husband created in Miami in the late 60s. Tanner says her husband had a spiritual experience at the time (she wouldn’t elaborate) and chose from then on to work with light—”a healing modality,” she says. The pair created minimalistic, abstract sculptures, much in line with the Light and Space movement that blossomed in Los Angeles contemporaneously (but, coincidentally, isolated from the Tanners). They pioneered multi-sensory installations, coordinating their lit works with auditory elements.

Today, as the nonagenarian loses her sight to glaucoma and other health complications, Tanner’s work has become more visually explicit. That is to say, her latest works feature clear messages, like “yes+love=bliss.” But students can and should express their own messages however they fit.

Find more information about upcoming classes and events at Tanner’s website,

Haley Gray
Haley Gray
Haley Gray is a Boulder-based freelance journalist. Her work has appeared in 5280, Roads and Kingdoms, Boulder Magazine, and the Albuquerque Journal.