Museums and Makerspace: 3-D scanning collaboration

Posted on April 12, 2019

April 2019- Museum News


Museums and Makerspace: 3-D scanning collaboration


The University of Pretoria Museums continually strive to make its art and heritage collections more accessible to the community, this includes the unique sculptural collections to the University. UP Museums teamed up with the Library Makerspace and Digitisation Division to launch a pilot project to create digital content that is more accessible than ever. By employing two- and three- dimensional scanning techniques and methodologies, the project aimed to provide access to physical sculptures in a virtual world.


In April, the team from the UP Museums and Library Makerspace scanned The Basotho Witness (1907), an original work by the South African sculptor Anton van Wouw (1862 - 1945). This 300mm sculpture was initially cast in bronze by the Fonderia Marinelli in Florence, Italy 1975 for the University. Originally, the sculpture portrays the subject of a Basotho mineworker as a witness or perhaps even as the accused in a court of law. Interpretively, the work represents an individual African male portrait with the emotions of both concern and self-respect within a difficult situation. The Basotho Witness is on permanent display in the Villa sculptural museum in the Old Merensky, which also displays many of UP’s other classical and contemporary sculptures. Hopefully, with the help of 3D scanning, more people will be able to access and examine this invaluable sculpture.


The process of 3D scanning uses laser lights to create point clouds (a large set of data points) from the surface of an object to capture every detail and create a three-dimensional object. Additional information on the sculpture (its history and background) is gathered from the primary Van Wouw archival records and then digitised to enrich the 3D model, as no sculpture or artwork within a museum should be complete without its 2D context. The physical 3D-scan was achieved by using an EinScan Pro. To achieve the best outcome, optimal and structural lightning was necessary. The type of material required various angles of scanning, especially where glossy materials caused scanning issues, such as reflection. After several trial attempts to collect the points of data, the object files were rendered and colour textures were employed to enhance the digital experience of the work for life-like accuracy. Certain features of the scan were modified and then further optimised to eventually render a 3D “2019” version of the 1907, The Basotho Witness.


Makerspace and the UP Museums are keen partners in demonstrating an open collaborative environment that allows cross-disciplinary research. Although only a pilot project, it highlighted the possible benefits of using new technologies in the preservation and digitisation of museum collections. The future possibility of printing 3D fabricated models can change the way museums interact with wider audiences. 3D technology is increasingly used in museums worldwide to aid with conservation, curatorial research and interpretation, and in this case, hopefully one day making the UP Museum collections more accessible. In the near future, mobile users may even be able to access museum collections directly from home. This creates benefits for not only the curators of collections, but researchers and audiences in a rapidly technologically advanced world. The team is optimistic in investigating the future possibilities of 3D scanning to other iconic works in the UP Museum Collections and thank the Library’s Makerspace for their ongoing support. Perhaps one day curators will be able to sleep better at night with the knowledge that valuable collections are safely “backed up” in the virtual realm. 



- Author Sian Tiley-Nel
Published by Nicole Hoffmann


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