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Photographing an Art Collection

Volume 13, Number 2 | January 2012
By Nicole M. Crawford

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UW Alumni Assoc Exec Director - Keener Fry How does a museum keep track of nearly 8,000 pieces of art? One of the best ways is to photograph each object for the permanent record and for the museum’s internal collection management database, a project that eventually allows museum staff to easily identify artworks without handling the object. As simple as it may sound, the completion of such a project takes time, professional staff and funding.

Digitally photographing the collection has been a long-term goal of the UW Art Museum, yet it wasn’t until 2011 that the key elements fell into place.

The Art Museum is excited to have secured the funding to digitally photograph its identified core collection of 6,628 objects as part of the Collection Advancement Digitization Project. A $74,875 Museums for America grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), combined with funds from the Patricia R. Guthrie Special Exhibitions Endowment, the National Advisory Board of the UW Art Museum and the Office of Academic Affairs, will allow for completion of the two-year project.

The project is the second phase of the Collection Advancement Digitization Project, which began in 2008 with a content and valuation assessment of the museum’s nearly 8,000 objects, also assisted by an IMLS grant.

The largest of the IMLS’ grants, Museums for America is also a highly competitive grant—this year, 160 projects, from among 481 applications, were funded.

Wes Magyar of WM Artist Services, who has worked with the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, Heritage Magazine, Foothills Art Center and several galleries, was selected from a competitive group of regional professional photographers to photograph the UW Art Museum’s collection. Using a professional who specializes in fine art photography ensures that each image will be created and captured according to industry and publication standards. Photography of the collection began in September 2011. Based in Denver, Magyar travels to Laramie once a month for a week at a time. He shoots about 500 artworks during each of his visits, depending on the objects.

Sculptures, for example, require multiple views, and oversized works require special set-ups. The process involves pulling approximately 100 objects—a day’s worth of photographing—from storage, labeling each one with its identifying number, photographing each object and reviewing the image before starting on the next piece of art.

The Art Museum’s curator of collections and museum registrar facilitate the process, though student help has proved invaluable. The project will take approximately 2 1/2 years to complete and entail photographing nearly 7,000 objects including paintings, works on paper, sculptures, photographs and ethnographic objects.

When complete, the UW Art Museum’s collection will be integrated into the university’s online search engine for its libraries, archives and museums, making the collection accessible online to students, faculty, researchers, museums and the general public.

The UW Art Museum will also have a collection of professional, high-resolution images available for further use by faculty in UW curriculum and course-work and for publication.

(Nicole M. Crawford is curator of collections at the UW Art Museum.)

 

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