On Thursday, September 27, 2017, four master’s and Ph.D. art history students participated in the Art History 3D workshop at the Meadows Museum. What is a 3D workshop? Kalee Appleton, director of visual services for the Department of Art History, taught students how to photograph sculptures so that, using Agisoft PhotoScan software, the photos could be combined into a digital 3D version of the sculpture.
What Happened at the Art History 3D Workshop
Anne Lenhart, collections manager for the Meadows Museum, led Appleton and the students to the pieces they would photograph in an off-exhibit storage vault. The museum already offers ample resources for students, but having access to the vaults under the museum is something that few experience. After a quick briefing about what to expect during the Art History 3D Workshop, Lenhart took everyone into a room filled with paintings and sculptures.
To start the process, Appleton showed the four Art History students how to photograph. Using a 17th century sculpture of Saint John the Baptist by Juan Martínez Montañés, Appleton and Lenhart started taking pictures from a low angle to capture every crevice. With the help of a lazy Susan, they rotated the sculpture an inch at a time, taking a photo at each step. Once reaching the start again, they raised the tripod and began repeating the process from a higher angle. Getting photos of Saint John the Baptist from four different heights marked the end of part one of the Art History 3D workshop. Appleton said that later she would crop each photograph to remove the background, and then upload them into Agisoft PhotoScan. The software would put the pieces together to create a digital 3D rendition of the original sculpture.
The department creates many hands-on experiences for their students, and the Art History 3D workshop was no different. After Appleton and Lenhart worked on Saint John the Baptist, students took turns practicing the technique by photographing an undated stone sculpture titled Two Figures by Dorothy Austin. Ph.D. student Asiel Sepulveda even mentioned wanting to create a class based on using the Agisoft PhotoScan software for assignments.
Appleton said the technology is a boon to art historians and the public alike. “Creating 3D versions of art allows people from all over the world to get close-up, 360-degree views of objects to study them,” she said. “Even ancient artifacts can be brought into the digital age!” The process has other uses as well, said Appleton, noting that the 3D image created from the workshop will help the museum create a protective shipping container for Saint John the Baptist when it is sent to a collaborating museum later in 2017.
Opportunities such as the Art History 3D workshop happen all the time on campus. But when students have resources such as the Meadows Museum, a whole new world of knowledge is at their fingertips. And the workshop was just a stepping stone for the Department of Art History. Soon, they will have access to pieces from collections worldwide because of software like Agisoft Photoscan. In addition, students will be able to share what they study once they can complete the process themselves.
Interested in having experiences like the Art History 3D workshop?