Jumpstarting the Visual Resource Center

Pomelo tree on campus

In January I joined the Visual Resource Center of the Art History department at UC Riverside. I’ve been in the new gig for approximately two months. Its been a joy getting to know the campus community which functions very much like a small city. I was surprised to learn that UCR is the 5th oldest university in the UC system. It is home to the Citrus Experiment Station, the campus is surrounded by citrus groves and there are many public fruit trees on campus. I am about a foot too short to reach the remaining pomelos right now and I have given serious thought to investing in a fruit picker basket. The university is UCR is incredibly diverse and has an aggressive strategic plan to position itself as a premier research university. It is currently in a period of growth and expansion, this includes the Art History department which is in the midst of a search for an Islamacist. Visual Resources is at the crossroads of art, technology, teaching, and research. I feel very lucky that I get to learn something new everyday.

My first priority I’m working on is getting our DAM configuration settled and web galleries published so they are accessible to faculty and students. We have a general purpose digital image collection that is available to students and faculty but we’d really like to see active use of web galleries for private faculty collections as well as galleries created for specific classes. The DAM tool we are using (Portfolio 2016) does a pretty seamless job out of the box, but we’ve made a few tweaks to meet our workflow & metadata needs. It’s important to acknowledge all the work that goes into the creation and management of these assets, before the images get to publishing stage. First there is image capture via camera or scanner. Sometimes there is editing of images supplied by faculty, perhaps phone snapshots taken while researching in the field or in libraries/archives. There is art historical research involved in identifying and cataloging the object depicted, which then gets translated into metadata for search-ability and image metadata involved so that the right assets are discoverable at the right time.

Portfolio Web Gallery

One of the workflow tweaks I made was to match the cataloging fields with exact names in the cataloging tool so that the use is clear and so that import/export will be that much easier. Another was to lower the dependence on Smart Galleries as part of the workflow because too full/too many dynamic galleries drags the speed and performance of Portfolio. We now have one smart gallery driven by metadata, that tells us when archive images are ready to be processed into access files. This gallery also serves as a checksum to verify recently processed images. I foresee continual optimization of the workflow, but this seems to be working well for us and I couldn’t be happier. I’m also thrilled to report that our current workflow, metadata schema, and legacy documentation is now published to an internal wiki so it can be a resource for future training or upgrades.

Right now, we have a class gallery for a professor teaching Latin American art that is updated shortly after the end of class each week. Many of these images are protest art, a relevant topic for 2017, and are not found in the usual repositories. The content provided to the VRC by the professor via PDF’d powerpoint are then sourced for better quality images, object/image catalogued, and ingested into the DAM. Within a day or so, the students can then access a (responsive!) web gallery to study from. I am told that this gallery is much easier to navigate than the repository made available through the university’s online learning system. We were able to host video too which is very exciting! More work to be done in this area, but we are looking forward to supporting more video formats and other a/v materials. What other multimedia file formats might we support; VR, GIS, data vis, 3D models or architecture?

Adventures with VRA: Riverside

VRA SC group photo

VRA-Southern California Chapter at UC Riverside: Greg Reser, Jennifer Faist-Hill, Krystal Boehlert, Sonja Sekely-Rowland, Maureen Burns, Brenda Lozano

Yesterday was the winter meeting with the Southern California chapter of the Visual Resources Association. We first met for breakfast and coffee hosted by Sonja Sekely-Rowland, Visual Resources Curator at UC Riverside. Sonja shared with us some of the challenges of entering a new position as big changes in the structure of the department and the institution happen. She needed to repurpose many of the traditional services of a Visual Resources Curator and upgrade legacy software systems. Resource allocation affects everyone in different ways.

After catching up with everyone, handling VRA business, and hearing a little bit about Sonja’s work at UCR, we headed over to The Barn to eat lunch on campus. Walking to lunch I noticed various fruit trees that were ripe for the picking scattered around campus. Sonja shared with us that UCR is home to the California Citrus Experiment Station, built in 1907 for citrus agricultural research. Today the Citrus Variety Collection hosts two trees of over 1000 citrus types.

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Relaxation Chamber at the Entomology Museum, UCR

After lunch we went to talk to Doug Yanega in the Entomology Museum. Doug showed us how the cases of insects are organized and we discussed familiar issues in physical organization of materials as well as database management and integrity. Doug has several species of insects named after him. He is a part of the International Commission for Zoological Nomenclature, which means he gets to name any new species he discovers! A large portion of the museum’s collection comes from Philip Hunter Timberlake who was hired by the Citrus Experiment Station in the 20s for his knowledge on parasitic beetles (ladybugs) for biological pest control. We saw parts of his bee collection while we were there. My favorite part of the tour was the Relaxation Chamber which sounds oh so nice! It’s actually a container of water and carbolic acid to reconstitute dehydrated insects for articulation and dissection.

Next, we got a preview of the exhibitions that are opening to the public today at the California Museum of Photography by curator Katherine Pointdexter. CMP is also connected to UCR and is part of the UCR ARTSblock in downtown Riverside. We saw abstract work by Marie Bovo, Myth and Majesty Photographs Picturing the American Southwest, and a contemporary work made in the past year by David Weldzius.  Our tour also included highlights from the permanent collection that gives a light overview of the history of photography. On the top floor there is a camera obscura and the first floor has a zoetrope on display.

Leigh Gleason, the Curator of Collections showed us the Keystone Mast Collection of stereograph prints, and negatives by the Keystone View Company. This was especially exciting given my recent obsession with stereographs and explorations in new forms of stereographic viewing. She also manages a research library and curated the exhibition Recollection: Contemporary Artists Working With The Keystone Mast Collection. Low on juice, I plugged my phone in to charge in the study room. Sadly I did not get any photos of the archives. A special consideration for earthquake country, the glass plates are stored in seismically isolated bases that glide when shaken (or pushed) that will protect the glass negatives in the event of the eventual Big One. Before we left we got a peek into the Culver Center of the Arts, with an exhibition of contemporary art.

We topped off the evening with drinks at the Mission Inn before having dinner at Tio’s Tacos. The Mission Inn has been around since 1876 with further construction in 1903 and 1931. Madelyn Millen, retired UCR VR Curator, joined us for a bit and shared some wonderful updates from her post UCR life. We then walked over to Riverside hot spot Tio’s Tacos for eclectic and decidedly not seismically reinforced assemblage installations. The VRA crew took a few quiet moments in the chapel evaluating architectural significance and influences before chowing down on tacos and aguas frescas.

I’m looking forward to seeing everyone again at the annual VRA conference in Seattle this March, being held jointly with ARLIS/NA.

Tio's Tacos. Photo by Maureen Burns.

Tio’s Tacos. Photo by Maureen Burns.