Wednesday, September 26, 2018

At HRNM: Scanning the Past, Printing the Future

By Joseph Miechle
Hampton Roads Naval Museum Educator

Recently at the Hampton Roads Naval Museum (HRNM) we had the opportunity to work with some local institutions in an exciting new capacity. We traveled to The National Museum of the Civil War Soldier at the Pamplin Historical Park in Petersburg, Virginia in order to 3D scan some rare Civil War artifacts.
HRNM Exhibits Coordinator Don Darcy sets up a 3D scanner in preparation of scanning objects at Pamplin Historical Park. Objects included a Costin Signal Gun and a quartermaster's telescope. (Photograph by Joseph Miechle)
We initially became aware of 3D scanning being used in historic institutions several years ago and have been trying to stay up with the technology as it evolves and incorporate it into our education programming. Scanning and printing of museum artifacts in 3D is a relatively new option but one that will certainly see more use as the technology becomes more viable and affordable. Here at HRNM we have purchased an affordable 3D scanner and our exhibits specialist had previously purchased his own 3D printer, which we utilize for printing our scanned objects. There are online companies that will print your scanned files for you and the Norfolk Public Library near our museum now has 3D printing capabilities.

HRNM Exhibits Coordinator Don Darcy scans a Costin Signal Gun. The black and white checkerboard pattern allows the scanner to track the image as it rotates and creates a better scan. (Photograph by Joseph Miechle)
Our 3D scanned images from Pamplin will be used to create faithful reproductions of artifacts that would normally not be permitted outside of the museum. This allows the public to hold and manipulate historic items they may not otherwise have the chance to do so. 3d printed objects are much more exciting for a learner than would be a traditional photograph. The use of 3D printed objects has other potential institutional uses as well.
Carly Elder, Collections Manager, of Pamplin Historic Park takes a turn at scanning 3D objects from their collection. The details in the USN buckle were difficult to capture. (Photograph by Joseph Miechle)
The 3D printed objects can be used to facilitate visitation by visitors to museums that are sight impaired. Visually impaired visitors may be discouraged from visiting an institution that houses their entire collection behind acrylic cases, but the availability of 3D printed materials for them to experience could surely enhance their visit as well as the enjoyment they take away with them. We have even attempted to scan a traditional painting and to reprint it in 3D. Much of the detail was lost during the printing process but the implications are there and as the technology evolves we hope to gain greater results.
HRNM Educator Joseph Miechle holds the plastic 3D reproduction (left) of a Blakely rifled shell recovered from the wreck of CSS Florida, which is much lighter than the original iron-and-lead shell (right), which is not only quite heavy but also fragile and requires two hands and gloves. (Photographs by Don Darcy)
At the HRNM we have partnered with another local institution, The Hermitage Museum and Gardens, and have several 3D printed artifacts from our collection (several not normally removed from storage) that are on display as part of their “3D Printing the Smithsonian” exhibit. We also have included some of our 3D-printed objects in the HRNM’s Civil War Traveling Sea Chest, which contains resources for teachers to use in their classes while teaching on the subject of the American Civil War.
The 3D-printed duplicate of a Bashley Britten shell from CSS Florida (center left) is among several 3D-printed artifacts from the Hampton Roads Naval Museum that are currently on display at The Hermitage Museum and Gardens in Norfolk. With it are (from right) facsimiles of a temple bell removed from a pagoda on Tinian Island after it was captured by American forces in 1944, and (just under the bell) a pipe bowl recovered from the wreck of the sloop-of-war USS Cumberland. To the shell's right is a reproduction of a painting of the Battle of the Capes. (Photograph by Max Lonzanida)
It is certainly exciting to see these items up close and the experience of holding an item that bore witness to great historic events may be limited to few people, but 3D printing may be closing that gap and changing how museums share their collections with the public. 

Visit The Hermitage Museum page on 3D printing here 

For more information about Pamplin Park visit their web page here

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