In late 2014, Harvard University concluded a six year restoration project with the unveiling of Mark Rothko’s restored Harvard Murals at the newly renovated Harvard Art Museum.
Originally placed in a Harvard dining hall in 1962 and subject to over 15 years of sun exposure, the severely faded paintings have been locked away in storage since 1979.
The works were once thought irreparably damaged and too fragile to undergo restoration. Rothko’s special paint formulations could not withstand the use of isolating varnishes, a standard preservation technique, rendering any hands-on restoration work irreversible; a fundamental contradiction to conservation best practices.
In conjunction with MIT and the University of Basel, Harvard Art Museum’s conservation team developed custom software that evaluated the faded areas against the original colors, calculating new images with corrective light levels. The revised image was then projected onto the original canvas via low-intensity light, virtually restoring faded hues, pixel by pixel.
Digitally-enhanced projected light may be the key to returning masterpieces, once deemed too fragile for traditional conservation methods, to public view. Learn more about the project in this video.
3D scanning technology has provided innovative new tools for cultural preservation and improved access to cultural objects for contemporary audiences.
The Smithsonian American Art Museum recently completed the Gunboat Philadelphia digitization project, updating their traditional exhibition of the historic Revolutionary War vessel with dynamic three-dimensional data.
Monitoring the deterioration of large scale objects can be painstakingly arduous—the condition information from hundreds of surface points must be recorded, compared, and analyzed.
Departing from traditional methods of conservation documentation, the Smithsonian implemented 3D scanning and advanced digital photography to collect data from the Philadelphia, enabling real-time feedback of minute areas of erosion and other structural changes.
3D technology provides new tools for the care of objects, creating more complete documentation that is specific to each object’s unique decaying pattern, and provide thorough history trails of data for future comparison.
In addition to the groundbreaking inroads in preservation, 3D documentation technology can drive new levels of public engagement and interaction. The Philadelphia’s 3D data is now accessible via the web, allowing the public to not only view the ship in various, previously inaccessible angles, but to also print their very own replica models using a standard 3D printer.
3D technology has also found a role in the preservation of historical sites. With the advent of 3D scanning, specialists can create digital blueprints of heritage sites with remarkable precision. Buildings and landscapes can be replicated and restored in virtual form based on the scanned point cloud data, digitally safeguarding the site for future generations. In an effort to protect cultural heritage sites from the threats of natural and man-made disasters, CyARK, a non-profit organization with the mission of using new technologies to create an online library of cultural heritage sites, has already fully captured data from 40 historic sites, including the Titanic, Pompeii, and the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and continues to work towards the goal of preserving 500 historic locations over the next five years.