Getting Behind the Glass: Museum Studies at Work - Mid-Pacific Institute

High School News

Getting Behind the Glass: Museum Studies at Work

Posted on April 21, 2016 by Scot Allen

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Students from Ms. Heather Calabro's Museum Studies class all agreed: the newly renovated John Young Museum of Art (JYMA) on University of Hawaii at Manoa's campus is beautiful. Buddha statues stood in a back garden and two sandstone lions welcomed them at the front. However, the high school seniors had little time to admire the scenery because they had come to work.

Please click here to view photos from the project.

"We created a partnership where our students are scanning their artifacts to post on John Young's website," said Ms. Calabro as she scrolled through a scan cloud in progress on her laptop. "Museums around the world are starting to digitalize their collections and John Young is one of them. They have already created a mobile app where some photos of their artifacts are available, but they want the 3D scans so visitors can feel the collection by rotating the image (interacting with) the collection. In exchange my students get to practice scanning and learn about museum creation. It's a win-win."

Marion Cadora is the Assistant Curator at JYMA and a lecturer at the UH Department of Art and Art History. She reached out to Ms. Calabro after hearing of a scanning exhibition by Mid-Pacific Students on the UH campus in the fall. "One of my students walked by and told me about it. I immediately dropped everything ran over," Ms. Cadora recalled. "Lucky for us I got in contact with Heather at that demo."

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The Mid-Pacific Students began scanning the current JYMA exhibit of Cambodian artworks (c. 10th-13th century) on display called "Fragments and Empire: Cambodian Art from Angkor Period" which is predominately sandstone including pieces up to six feet long of temples that have been chiseled off. Once Cadora learned what the Mid-Pacific scanners could handle, she requested the museum glass removed to give the students, and their scanners, better access.

"Digital heritage is a topic that is very important for museums around the world, and offers new ways of promoting and engaging collections," said Ms. Cadora. "I am thrilled we have this opportunity to document and preserve our collection through 3D images. It's a great way to make the exhibit accessible to the public for a longer period and the digital presence may offer an opportunity to gather more research about the artworks."

Before scanning, Ms. Cadora taught the Mid-Pacific students an excellent lesson that the back of a piece is just as important as the front. The front tells the Hindu story based on which gods are depicted, but the back tells the archeological story of how it was removed and where it came from. The 3D scanners will include both sides. Ms. Cadora hopes the scans will be so accurate that curators around the world will be able to access them from the JYMA website, rotate them around, and do their own archeological analysis.

Graduate students in Ms. Cadora's Art Museums and Preservation Practices class taught the Mid-Pacific students how to handle the artifacts with white gloves on and taught them about particular pieces.

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"We are getting graduate level museum studies," said Ms. Calabro with a smile. "It is awesome because our students are getting to handle artifacts that are 1000 years old, understand museum studies at a college level, and provide a professional service that is going to live on long past their time at Mid-Pacific."

Senior John Yen ('16) recognized how unique the experience was. "My favorite part was actually being able to hold some of the artifacts. It was gratifying to hold something of great value and an amazing historical past in my hands. It seemed unreal that a high schooler would be able to hold such culturally important artifact, but through our lessons we were able to do so and experience something many people wouldn't be able to."

While learning a huge amount, the Mid-Pacific students are also experiencing the role of teacher. This semester Ms. Cadora is teaching a new course called "Art Museums and Preservation Practices" at the John Young Museum of Art and Ms. Calabro's students are training the graduate students how to operate the scanner so they will know how to run it in the even that the museum buys one in the future.

"My students have been very eager to learn about the 3D scanning process," said Ms. Cadora. Heather's students invited [my students] to their classroom at Mid-Pacific to learn more about the software and techniques. The exchange element makes this project even more enriching and meaningful for both of our schools."

Caitlin Wright ('16) enjoyed the ying-yang of the exchange. "We got to learn from them and they learned from us," she said. "I think that this is really cool because I could actually see how this will be helping a museum."

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Visitors will be able to see the fruits of the collaboration (eight final scans) on the John Young Museum of Art website as early as the summer of 2016. However, the partnership between Mid-Pacific and JYMA will continue. "They have thousands of artifacts so this is just the tip of the iceberg," said Ms. Calabro as she slid the laptops processing scans away into a cart. "We plan to continue this partnership next year."

Do you have an idea for a potential scanning partnership? Contact Mark Hines at mhines@midpac.edu

By Laura Davis