Imagine you’re an art history professor trying to prepare a lecture on turn-of-the-20th-century decorative arts. You want to include images that show the work of Louis Comfort Tiffany. Stained-glass lamps; skylights; mosaics. Where do you turn to find the images you need?
In the not too distant past, you would have headed to your campus slide library to put together a carousel of images that you’d project for your class. You or your colleagues would have taken many of the slides as you visited museums for study and research. Some of them came from purchased sets sold by vendors, and some of them may have come directly from the museums that held the objects. But the slides varied in quality. Over time and with repeated use in front of a hot projector bulb, colors shifted and faded.
With the advent of digital technologies, the slide library began to change. First videodiscs, then CD-ROMs, and then, with the innovation of the World Wide Web, digital images could be brought directly to your computer. Yet the early web was a wild place. Finding what you were looking for in a pre-Google world wasn’t easy. Many museums were still cautious about how to best use the web and were unsure about how to protect their investment in costly digital imaging projects. Through trial and experimentation, the museum community developed an appreciation for how the digital delivery of images could help get their collections into the hands of scholars, educators, and students.
With the support of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Artstor Digital Library was created in 2001 to connect museum collections with these academic audiences. Using slides from the University of California as a foundation, Artstor added additional images from several ongoing digitization projects in order to create a comprehensive digital library for art history. Today, Artstor provides access to over 2 million images from more than 280,000 collections around the globe. While large search engines makes it easier to find things, images in the wild still suffer from quality problems or unclear provenance. Artstor solves these problems by maintaining high quality standards and images that are clearly licensed for educational and research uses. It also provides a suite of tools to help organize, present, and share the images you find.
This October, the Corning Museum of Glass became one of the latest contributors to the Artstor Digital Library through the addition of more than 2,700 images from our collections. Artstor participants can explore selected objects from every era and culture represented in the Museum’s collection, including ancient and art glass vessels, jewelry, sculptural objects, design objects, decorative objects, stained glass, furniture and lighting. The selections feature a wide range of historic techniques and styles.
Patrons of the Juliette K. and Leonard S. Rakow Research Library of The Corning Museum of Glass can access Artstor through the Library’s Research Database subscription or at an organization near you. According to Jim Galbraith, chief librarian at the Rakow, “Artstor is a powerful resource for museum staff, researchers studying glass art, and studio students looking for inspiration, but it has wider appeal as well. Historians, literary scholars, archaeologists – people with a variety of interests will find it useful. I use it as a portable art gallery – to look at beautiful works of art.”