Orozco murals, Native American art digitalized

by Jessica Avitabile | 7/28/14 2:15pm

The completion of the Dartmouth Digital Orozco website and the digitalization of the Hood Museum’s collection of Native American art are the College’s latest steps to digitize artwork. The website, which went online in late June, makes the Orozco murals in Baker Library available to the public, along with relevant information and other pictures, while the digitalization will make more than 4,000 pieces of Native American work accessible online following a grant earlier this year.

The museum received the $150,000 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services last September to digitize its Native American art collection.

Thus far, the Hood has digitally photographed more than 2,000 objects in 2,500 images, the Hood’s senior curator Katherine Hart said. The Hood is sorting through material mainly by geographic region, which loosely sorts the works by different cultures. After the Hood goes through the pieces from each region, an expert with knowledge of the specific region consults with Hood staff and offers their expertise.

The Hood then films the experts speaking in front of works relevant to their specializations, so that their expertise will be available online as well.

Heather Igloliorte, an art history professor at Concordia University who specializes in Native American material from the eastern Arctic region, was the first expert to visit the College. For a week in June she came to see the collection, and she will be visiting again in November to give a lecture about the material.

The Hood will also bring Northwest coast expert and Capilano University art history professor Megan Smetzer in December, Hart said. Other experts will focus on Native Americans in the Great Plains and in the Southeast.

Hart said she expects that all of the work will be digitized by next summer.

The “Dartmouth Digital Orozco” website allows viewers to visualize parts of the creative process from Orozco’s original sketches to the mural that can be seen today. The project shows the melding of image processing and classical art history to understand the artistic decisions Orozco made.

Prior to the website, which has been accessible to the public for about a month, an iPad application launched in 2011 served a similar purpose. Visitors could check out an iPad from the circulation desk and view the mural alongside information and other relevant images. The application was used as a prototype for the website to make the information available to people unable to visit, Hart said.

Art history department chair Mary Coffey said that her main involvement with the website has been working with the Hood to upload research that her students have done on the mural. For nearly all of the panels, there is now a short student essay on the website discussing the image.

She said that the website can be used as a teaching technology that will allow students to add content that can enhance the public understanding of the mural.

“Hopefully we’ll have a lot of student material uploaded to the site so that people can browse if they want to know more about the mural or about what students here are doing,” she said.

Mathematics department chair and computer science professor Daniel Rockmore said he hopes the mural can serve as an example of how different fields can collaborate.

“I hope people can take away that the collaboration between computer science and art history can be used to give art historians new tools and new eyes,” Rockmore said.

For the past 10 to 15 years, many museums have engaged with digital tools to connect audiences to their collections in different ways, including digitizing collections, making collections, archives and research materials searchable and giving people the opportunity to download tours, Coffey said. Allowing people, particularly researchers, to access collections online saves both money and travel time, she said.