By this summer, Dartmouth College’s Hood Museum of Art plans to have over 4,000 Native American art objects digitized. The project is funded by a $150,000 grant received in September of 2013 from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
The collections, which focus mainly on the 19th to early 20th century, are from across North America, from the Canadian Arctic down to the Great Plains. Once the objects from a specific region are photographed, the museum is inviting a specialist to give the art and artifacts context, and look over their catalogue identification for inaccuracies. They also plan to film video with the specialists that will be available online.
This week, Valley News reported on the most recent scholar to visit: Megan Smetzer, a Northwest coast expert and art history professor from Capilano University. (The article notes the college museum doesn’t have a curator specifically devoted to indigenous art.) Since the Hood Museum collections center on the 19th century and later, when a lot of the tribal art was being created specifically for tourists or collectors and is often devalued by museums, having a specialist like Smetzer weighing in is essential. As Valley News explains:
Smetzer has found that the people making the curios were “carrying their culture forward” in subversive ways by incorporating artistic motifs and themes, as well as practices, that were otherwise banned or frowned on by the American and Canadian governments in their efforts to bring the numerous nations under their control.
To get an idea of the digital platform the Hood Museum is working toward, you can check out the Dartmouth Digital Orozco website launched last June. A high-resolution, 360-degree image of José Clemente Orozco’s Baker Memorial Library murals from the 1930s allows users to click around and pull up preliminary sketches related to different panels. By offering these types of resources online, along with academic context, the public can finally engage with a collection of Native American artifacts that has long been out of view.
Read more about the Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth College Native American digitization project at Valley News.