The Museum’s Online Collections is part of the larger Library and Collections Information Department. Housed in the Crumpacker Family Library, the department is responsible for managing all of the images in the Online Collections database, responding to requests for library and archives access, assisting curators, and much more. Stay tuned for future posts about the work of this vital department as the landscape of access to art changes almost daily.
Today, we are pleased to share that on May 30th, the Museum completed a major four-year project: the Northwest Art Initiative (NWAI).
The original goal of the NWAI was to digitize–photograph, catalog, and make accessible–our entire collection of Northwest Art, which includes more than 9,000 works of art. Phase one of the NWAI began in 2012, supported by an Art Works grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, and focused on the digitization of our impressive collection of Northwest Photography.
Fun fact: The Museum has an incredible (and rare) collection of Northwest photography by female photographers, dating back to the early days of the photographic medium.
We spent a year digitizing most of the Northwest Photography collection and began Phase two in 2013. Phase two was supported by a generous Humanities Collections and Reference Resources grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. The focus of the second phase of the NWAI was to digitize the broader Northwest collection, which includes both historic and contemporary paintings, sculpture, mixed media, installation pieces, decorative arts, and prints and drawings.
Simultaneous to Phase two, we were granted another Art Works award from the NEA to support a related project called Picturing Oregon. The purpose of Picturing Oregon was to apply a layer of geographic cataloging to art works in the permanent collection that depict the state of Oregon. This means that our team went through the Northwest collection to find works that show specific places (like Portland or Mount Hood or Astoria) and added that information to the database so that you can search for it in Online Collections. Now, if you click on “Mount Hood” in a record, you can see all of the other works in the collection that show Mount Hood. So far, we have cataloged over 1,000 works that show places in Oregon to create another way for you to explore the collection. There are lots of possibilities for using this data in the future; someday we can turn it into cool interactives or maps (although, it’s already pretty cool).
A large team, including curators, photographers, registrars, grant-writers, art preparators, and information professionals spent four years working on the NWAI, which included scholarly research about art and artists, measuring artworks, recording inscriptions and markings, handling fragile objects (like the 300+ glass negatives in our collection by Julia E. Hoffman), taking detailed photographs, processing digital files, performing subject and geographic cataloging (which makes Online Collections easier to search), and editing database records. This was a truly collaborative effort.
In addition to sharing images and information on our website, we are also submitting our Northwest Art Collection to Artstor so that students, scholars, and educators around the world can learn more about Northwest Art. Furthermore, we have created almost 13,000 hi-res images of the Northwest Art Collection that can be used for research, in the classroom, for scholarly publications, interactive media, in-gallery programs, and more. The best part is that you can now view and learn about the collection from your own devices no matter where you are or whether or not you’re ever able to visit the Museum in person.
The Northwest Art Collection is the most recent collection we’ve digitized in its entirety (last year, we finished a similar project to digitize our world-class Native American Art Collection, supported by a generous Museums for America grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services), but it won’t be the last! We’re constantly photographing art and updating records. You can currently browse over 40% of the Museum’s entire permanent collection (over 21,000 objects) in Online Collections and that number grows almost every day!
Our mission is to keep increasing your access to the Museum’s collection. Stay tuned as we continue this exciting journey.
The Northwest Art Initiative (NWAI) has been made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor.
Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.