Publishing a collection of drawings online
Ackland Art Museum, North Carolina, USA
- An interface to explore the drawings at a level of detail that has been impossible before now
- A new visual identity to support and enhance how audiences experience the collection
- A content management system to publish interpretation and articles inspired by the collection
In 2017 the Ackland Art Museum received its largest gift. Donated by Dr. Sheldon Peck and his late wife Leena, the gift included 134 largely 17th- and 18th-century Dutch and Flemish drawings by artists including Rembrandt, Rubens and Van Dyke.
An important condition of the Pecks' gift was that the Ackland should make the collection freely available online for a worldwide audience. Cogapp was delighted to be selected to help with this mission.
The World of Dutch and Flemish Seventeenth-Century Drawings
Anyone who comes across the Peck Collection is likely to recognise that it is something special.
Firstly, because of the high quality of the artworks it contains, and secondly, because of the energy and enthusiasm that the Pecks devoted to acquiring and curating it. It is truly a labour of love.
In undertaking the project we sought to honour the artists' work and the Pecks' energy and their generous gift. To do this we had to immerse ourselves in the world of Dutch and Flemish seventeenth-century drawings.
Cogapp has done many online collection projects over several decades but this is our first for a collection of drawings. It has been a great opportunity for us to learn and develop our practice.
Building a better online world for The Peck Collection
Visual identity and design
It was incredibly important that this unique collection of drawings is presented with as much care online as the drawings themselves have been when put on show in the Ackland. The drawings needed to be presented to online audiences in such a way that allows the mastery of the artists to shine through.
The user interface was designed to frame the drawings and create an ambiance in which they look at home in a medium that could not have been conceived of when they were created.
Our design exploration involved visits to museums including the Drawings Gallery at the British Museum and online research into the world of 17th-century Dutch and Flemish culture.
Based on that research we developed an identity and design system for the Peck Collection.
A key element of the design system is a typeface called Custodia. This is a modern digital font based on 17th-century Dutch typography. It has abundant character while remaining readable. Before we confirmed its use we did a comprehensive and systematic review for accessibility and readability. For more detail on choosing an accessible typeface see our blog post exploring the subject.
The version of Custodia that you see on the Peck website is a variant we commissioned from the foundry that makes clearer distinctions in some of the key letterforms, notably 'l' and '0'.
The logo is modelled on 17th century Dutch printers' marks. To add a playful touch, we designed four different variants, one of these is selected at random each time a page is displayed. Each variation contains a detail from one of the Peck drawings. Design colours are based on the colours traditionally used for mounting and framing old master drawings.
All our research and development is encapsulated in a complete set of design guidelines.
Presentation and interpretation of the collection itself was paramount in our considerations when determining the best technical approach for the Peck Collection. Our solution needed to allow audiences to not only inspect the drawings in great detail but also access associated metadata and, where possible, explore onward journeys through the collection.
To support these kinds of user journeys we proposed the use of Craft CMS in conjunction with the International Image Interoperability Framework (IIIF). These technologies provided a foundation that enabled us to develop a fully-featured, user-friendly, accessible web site. The CMS choice enables the Ackland team to independently create and edit content. Working in Craft is simple and straightforward, no specific technical skills are necessary. Adopting IIIF for presentation of the collection images allows for deep-zoom as well as opening up an ever-growing range of research tools designed for cross-institutional research and collaboration.
Key features related to research and enjoyment of the collection include:
- The choice of background colour makes a surprising difference to the appearance (and enjoyment) of the drawings. We implemented a feature that allows you to select and change the background colour for each one. The range of background options is based on the colours traditionally used for drawing mounts.
- Everyone who studies drawings uses a magnifying glass. Each of the Peck images is available in very high resolution (using IIIF technology) with corresponding zoom magnification. You can zoom in far enough to see individual pencil marks and tiny details.
- To support scientific investigation and study, you can select from a variety of different views of each image including recto, verso, infra red and x-radiograph.
- The Peck drawings are rarely rectangular. The images are all cut out to correspond with their more or less ragged edges. In order to support this technically we had to use a non-standard image format that supports transparency.
Key features of the content management system include:
- Pages for each artist list the relevant works in the collection. Where we've been able to we have added connections between artists, mainly pupil-teacher relations sourced from the authoritative RKD database, these illuminate subtle connections between the works of art and show the flow of influence between artists.
- Most of the drawings are accompanied by extended scholarly catalogue entries that include comparative illustrations and bibliographic references. The system provides comprehensive support for managing and displaying them.
- To reflect the different ways that the drawings can be grouped and enjoyed we built a system based on the concept of an 'album'. Editors can easily create an album to showcase any selection of drawings arranged in any order.
- A mechanism for creating and displaying 'articles' accommodates the additional scholarship that underpins the curation of the Peck Collection. Articles are easily created and support the same scholarly mechanisms for managing comparative illustrations and bibliographic references are available here as in the catalogue entries.
- One of the pleasures of something like the Peck Collection is discovering connections between its different art works. Every time an article or album or artist is created, corresponding hyperlinks are created to connect the works of art that belong to the new element.
- All the references are brought together into a dynamically updated comprehensive bibliography for students and scholars.
We're proud to have been part of the effort to share these wonderful drawings with the world. We encourage you to see the results of our work for yourself, Sheldon Peck's article, Is that Drawing Right?, is a great place to start.
Peck Collection website
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