Laura Mongiovi, Associate Professor, Flagler College, St. Augustine, Florida
Sunday, May 15, 2016
Virtual Curation Laboratory, Bernard Means, PhD, VCU
The Virginia Historical Society is one museum working to create ways for Drudge and others like her to experience historical artifacts for themselves. Andrew Talkov, vice president for programs at the museum, recently enlisted the help of Bernard Means, PhD an anthropology professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, to begin creating some 3D printed artifacts that people could touch and hold.
“I’m trying to figure out how we can use 3-D printing to make the experience better for everybody — because who doesn’t want to be able to handle the [artifact] that’s behind the glass, even if it’s just a reproduction — but specifically for the visually impaired,” said Talkov.
Dr. Means is the director of VCU’s Virtual Curation Laboratory, which is dedicated to creating a digital archive of historical artifacts. The lab also uses a 3D printer to create replicas of certain items for exhibits. The professor was happy to help, and took a few days to scan and print a number of artifacts from the Historical Society, including a wheel from a Conestoga wagon, a cigar store Indian from 1924, and an iron breastplate, circa 1622, on loan from the Virginia Department of Historic Resources. Perhaps coolest of all, he also scanned and 3D printed George Washington’s signature from a letter the President had written to his stepson.
“The idea behind 3-D printing a signature is that you can tell people that George Washington signed this document, but even if you could hold the real thing — which, of course, you can’t, [because] it’s too fragile — it’s not going to mean anything to you if you’re visually impaired,” said Dr. Means. “Even if you translate that document into braille, you’re getting a translation of that document. But by 3-D printing [Washington’s signature], somebody could trace it and feel it, and get a sense of the ‘G’ and [Washington’s] cursive. This is actually touching George Washington’s signature.”
For Kimmy Drudge, who visited the museum recently, the experience was everything she’d never been able to get from museums before. Her face lit up as she ran her fingers over the 3D printed replica of Washington’s signature.