Smith­so­ni­ans’ dig­i­tal project gives ac­cess to Asian art­work

China Daily (Canada) - - ACROSSAMERICAS - BY PAUL WELITZKIN in New York paulwelitzkin@ chi­nadai­

Start ing to­day, the Smith­so­nian In­sti­tu­tion’s two mu­se­ums of Asian art will re­lease their en­tire col­lec­tions on­line.

This means that a Chi­nese porce­lain vase from the Yon­gle pe­riod (1403-1424) that hasn’t been on pub­lic dis­play for at least nine years will be avail­able for pub­lic view­ing.

The porce­lain shape is called a meip­ing in Chi­nese. “The name means a vase that is per­fect for hold­ing a sin­gle branch of a flow­er­ing plum, which is one of the fa­vorite blos­som­ing trees in China,” said Jan Stu­art, the Melvin R. Sei­den Cu­ra­tor of Chi­nese art at both the Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sack­ler Gallery in Wash­ing­ton.

“We are the first Smith­so­nian mu­se­ums to dig­i­tize their col­lec­tions. This is a great op­por­tu­nity for schol­ars and re­searchers as well as vir­tual vis­i­tors to have 24/7 ac­cess to our im­pres­sive col­lec­tion,” Court­ney O’Cal­laghan, chief dig­i­tal of­fi­cer told China Daily. The free pub­lic re­source, called “Open F/S”, is avail­able at

By dig­i­tiz­ing the col­lec­tion, O’Cal­laghan and the staff at the mu­seum have taken pho­to­graphic images of ev­ery ob­ject (more than 40,000) and up­loaded them and de­scrip­tions into a dig­i­tal-as­set man­age­ment sys­tem. Over 90 per­cent of the images will have high-res­o­lu­tion qual­ity.

Be­cause of space and other lim­i­ta­tions, much of the mu­se­ums’ col­lec­tion isn’t on pub­lic dis­play. “The pub­lic will now have un­lim­ited ac­cess to those ob­jects,” said O’Cal­laghan.

O’Cal­laghan said the mu­se­ums are not con­cerned that the on­line ac­cess will af­fect attendance. “We are hop­ing that it will ac­tu­ally lead to an in­crease in attendance,” she said. “We be­lieve that by re­mov­ing fi­nan­cial and phys­i­cal lim­i­ta­tions, we can ac­tu­ally in­crease in­ter­est in the mu­se­ums.”

In ad­di­tion to hold­ing a branch, ves­sels like the porce­lain vase were used as wine bot­tles. “It is painted with ab­stract Lo­cust flow­ers and plant stalks with grain. In Chi­nese you can make a play on th­ese words to say may you have peace year after year,” said Stu­art.

“It’s in per­fect con­di­tion and the cobalt pig­ment used was prob­a­bly im­ported from Iran.”

O’Cal­laghan said this project has been in progress for the last 15 years. “We were the first Smith­so­nian mu­seum to go dig­i­tal 15 years ago so this is re­ally a nat­u­ral ex­ten­sion of that,” she said, adding that the project is to­tally funded in-house by the mu­se­ums.

“As some­one who stud­ies and loves art, I am thrilled that a per­son in China or in New York will have ac­cess to this,” said Stu­art.


This porce­lain shape from the Yon­gle pe­riod (1403-1424) is called meip­ing and is avail­able on­line for pub­lic view­ing from the Smith­so­nian’s two mu­se­ums of Asian art.

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