Min­ing deep­er into Philly’s online museums

3 minute read
'Puteoli Marble Block,' from a 'Digital Daily Dig' by Penn Museum. (Image courtesy of Penn Museum.)
'Puteoli Marble Block,' from a 'Digital Daily Dig' by Penn Museum. (Image courtesy of Penn Museum.)

Continuing the “deeper dive” into the cascade of arts offerings tumbling into the online world and onto our computers, here’s part two of a look at some digital treasures in our regional museums.

Some of these visuals are due to developing technologies and proficiency in the art world. But some have been archived because of a prescient swell over the past decade in digitization grants from funders like the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and the National Endowments for the Arts (NEA) and the Humanities (NEH).

Penn Museum

With its mission to “transform understanding of the human experience,” this West Philadelphia landmark focused on art, archeology, and anthropology recently transformed its ground-level galleries, including a dramatic relocation of its 25,000-pound Sphinx. If you’re “thirsty for knowledge,” attend Penn’s weekly Thirsty Thursday – Living Room Lectures. These are livestreamed informal Facebook chats with a curator (seated on a comfy couch) each Thursday at 5:30pm. Subjects are wide ranging, from mound-building in the US to the art of ancient Babylonia, and you can submit questions in advance.

The museum also offers a series of Digital Daily Digs, featuring “one artifact, three minutes, endless insights.” These short, illustrated pop-up talks dive swiftly into one interesting artifact from the collection. There’s a new Dig every day—as of this writing there were 24. Past Daily Dig sessions are archived on Penn Museum’s social media or on their website.

Museum of the American Revolution

This addition to the heritage scene moved its mission a little closer to the art world with its just-closed exhibition Cost of Revolution: The Life and Death of an Irish Soldier, on British soldier-artist Richard St. George. Online, the museum offers a spiffy virtual tour of its galleries and information for students and families, but one of its most interesting offerings is the virtual book club Read the Revolution.

Settle in for this curated collection of “exciting, thought-provoking books” about the war of independence. There’s a wide array of book excerpts, like Battle of Paoli (Thomas J. McGuire), Founding Gardeners (Andrea Wulf), Ben Franklin in London (George Goodwin), and even reading lists for children. Titles are arranged in five categories: biography, fiction, history, memoir, and children—and each selection starts with a precis of the book and its setting. An average of two books have been added each month since the collection was begun in 2013, so there are well over 150 titles available for a quick view or a guide to further reading.

Winterthur

The Winterthur Museum had to close its exhibition Re-Vision 2020: Through a Woman’s Lens shortly after it opened. Scheduled through January 3, 2021, the exhibition gathers objects and manuscripts once solely interpreted in relation to men’s stories and “re-visions” them through the lens of women’s history and the suffrage movement. Before closure, the museum made short videos that introduce viewers to the different sections of the exhibition. They’re available on the museum’s Facebook page, interspersed with other social media offerings, so you must scroll a bit to find them.

For an overview of Winterthur’s famed conservation studio, there is a short, informative YouTube video recently aired as part of WHYY-TV’s program You Oughta Know. But you can get a casual-yet-detailed look behind the scenes by following preventative conservator Matt Mickletz in two videos about the museum from his perspective. In the first one, “Closing the Distance: A Virtual Tour,” you meander with Matt for about an hour, while the second one, “Closing the Distance: How We Maintain our Collection,” shows just how they do it.

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