Author: Brigid Laurie

The Oldest and Newest Technologies Combined: Making Object Mounts for Cooper Hewitt

On December 12, Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum reopened to the public after a lengthy renovation. One of their opening exhibitions, Tools: Extending Our Reach, features 175 objects that have shaped human life. Creating mounts for the ancient artifacts featured in Tools posed some unique challenges.

The mounts needed to display the object without obscuring it. Due to their age, the objects cannot be handled excessively making measuring difficult, and in the case of hand-carved tools, even if we could handle the objects freely, their uneven surfaces aren’t easy to measure anyway.

So how exactly can OEC make these mounts? How do we know that


handaxe mount

 will fit

mounted handaxe


Megan Dattoria, OEC mountmaker and 3D printing innovator, is using cutting edge technology to create custom brackets that are a perfect fit for each object. She was kind enough to explain how she makes custom mounts with minimal object handling. (The object in the photos below is a modern interpretation of an ancient stone tool like the one shown above.)



Megan took 45 rotational photographs of the tool. The targets were used to document the object’s scale.


She used photogrammetry software to create a digital file of the 3D model.


3print crop
Megan printed a model of the tool and worked with that instead of handling the original object. She could hold it and determine its center of gravity.


Megan virtually placed the tool into the correct display position and built the bracket within the program. The resulting bracket corresponded exactly to the tool’s bumps and crevices.


The digital bracket was printed in wax and then cast in brass. Megan painted and padded the final version.


The real object in the mount – a perfect fit!


The Art of Building for Artists

One of the stars of the Hirshhorn’s new exhibition, Days of Endless Time, is the American debut of German artist Clemens von Wedemeyer’s Afterimage (2013). OEC fabricators Adam Bradshaw and Enrique Dominguez, along with intern Colby Styskal and volunteers Juan Lucas and Neal Falanga, built the semicircular screen used to show this work from nine separate curved panels.

OEC staff installs the curved screen for “Afterimage.”

OEC used CAD/CAM programs to lay out and cut the plywood ribs. The seams required three blind panel connections. The connections were skinned with bending ply on the front and back, and the screen was raised off the floor with 4×4 posts.

Luan plywood was used on the back of the screen to create a “raw shipping crate” appearance. The plywood was coated with a clear fire retardant finish. Unlike the raw look of the back, the front surface was laminated in phenolic paper. This covered any imperfections and created a smooth screen for the projection. After the screen was anchored to the floor, the seams were caulked and the face was painted with white projection screen paint.

The back of the screen resembles a shipping crate.

Afterimage and the other 13 artworks featured in Days of Endless Time will be on display through April 6, 2015.

A Tombstone Reborn and Replicated

Thomas Jefferson’s tombstone has led an interesting life. In 1833, 7 years after his death, the tombstone was made to his exact specifications and placed in the graveyard of his home, Monticello. The years, the weather, and even vandals took a toll on the tombstone. Within 50 years, it was in terrible condition. A copy of the grave marker was made for Monticello and Jefferson’s family gave the original to the University of Missouri.

Unfortunately, in 1892 a fire severely damaged the tombstone. Sadly, it was not repaired very well at the time.

In 2014, however, the tombstone’s luck began to turnaround. The Smithsonian Museum Conservation Institute (MCI), in Suitland, MD was able to treat the tombstone. While it was at MCI, OEC paid the marker a visit and photographed it – many, many times – in order to make 3D replicas. Carolyn Thome went MCI to digitally capture the tombstone using photogrammetry.


1 Jefferson_tombstone_photogrammetry model
Carolyn took over 200 photographs of the tombstone. The photos were uploaded to the “cloud” for photogrammetry software processing.

Chris Hollshwander used computer aided machining (CAM) software to create tool paths to drive a computer numerical control (CNC) router. He used these tools to cut a master pattern in polyurethane model board.

Once the pattern was created, a silicone mold was made to cast the replicas. Each replica was made of a material suited to its intended use. The replica displayed outdoors on the original granite obelisk was cast in glass fiber reinforced concrete (GFRC), a material that has a stone-like texture. The other replica is used for educational presentations. To keep it lighter and easier to handle, it was cast hollow in glass fiber reinforced polyurethane resin.

At this point, it was Erin Mahoney’s turn to tend to the replicas. She used a combination of faux stone and faux marble techniques to paint them, matching the color variations of the original Vermont marble.

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Erin paints one of the replica tombstones.

Finally, Chris Hollshwander applied a UV protectant polyurethane clear coat.

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Chris sprayed a protective coating on the replicas before they were shipped to the University of Missouri.


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The original tombstone, restored…


… and the two replica tombstones. Could you tell the difference?

6 completed NHB2014-01786


It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s OEC’s first comic book!

Meet Captain Capture, the hero of the Smithsonian’s Digitization Program Office!

Like all great superheroes, he has an origin story.

He was born in the wilds of Landover, Maryland, in a secret lab owned by the Smithsonian. Well, maybe not… but he was created and drawn by Evan Keeling, an OEC graphics specialist and comic book artist who took on this endeavor. The comic explains how the DPO rapid capture process works, and how it can benefit collections at the Smithsonian. DPO recently launched the Captain Capture comic book at the 2014 Digitization Fair.

Evan was kind enough to share with us mortals how he brings a comic page to life using pencils, inks, and digital media.

1 CaptainCapturePage1
After reviewing DPO’s script, Evan outlined the potential frame layouts in pencil.


2 DPO_CaptainCapture_page_1_pencils
He refined his drawings….


3 DPO_CaptainCapture_page_1_text
…and added the text.


4 DPO_CaptainCapture_page_1_inks
After the text was in place, he inked the page to provide definition and establish the mood.


5 DPO_CaptainCapture_page_1_colored
At the end of our hero’s journey, color is applied and BAM! Captain Capture is here to save the day…and your collections.

Welcome to OEC, MAAM

The Mid-Atlantic Association of Museums (MAAM) is in Washington October 22-24, bringing together museum professionals from across the region. On October 22, OEC welcomed a group of conference attendees for a behind the scenes tour.

OEC Director Susan Ades led participants from museums, firms, and universities through our facilities. The first stop was the Design/Editing Unit, where Lynn Kawaratani explained our design process and led a lively discussion about exhibition design and development.

1 interactive
MAAM conference attendees try a scent interactive prototype in the Design/Editing Unit.


2 graphics
Evan Keeling explains print processes.


3 3D
Carolyn Thome shows off some of our 3D printed objects.

We enjoyed hosting our tour group and hope they enjoy their stay in Washington!

What You Make Of It

In September, OEC joined in on the fun with over 800 other exhibitors at the New York Maker Faire, the “World’s Greatest Show (and Tell).” The two day festival, held in Queens, NY, brought together all manner of ‘makers’ – scientists, tech aficionados, crafters, educators, and so on – to show what they have made and share what they have learned.

This was OEC’s first time attending Maker Faire. Modelmakers Carolyn Thome and Megan Dattoria set up a display in the 3D printing village. (Yes, there was entire village of people who work with 3D printers.) Armed with miniature lungs, gorilla skulls, enlarged shells, and other goodies, they told attendees of the amazing ways the OEC is using 3D printing technology in exhibitions and outreach programs at the Smithsonian.

1 Makerfaire_tabletop
Visitors loved checking out our 3D printed objects.


2 Makerfaire_ribbon
Editors loved our objects, too. OEC won an Editor’s Choice ribbon!

Maker Faire provided a chance for OEC to show off some of the innovative ways the Smithsonian is using this groundbreaking technology. Carolyn and Megan also got to compare notes with other makers… and check out the first 3D printed car, an enormous human-sized mousetrap game, battling drones, and thousands of people outside the gate waiting to get in both mornings.


3 Makerfaire_carolyn
Carolyn shows attendees some of our models.


4 Makerfaire_megan
Megan met with attendees and also tweeted from the festival. You can follow OEC @SIExhibits.

Bigger is Better: Mathias Lab Graphic Panels

Just how big of a graphic can we make? You’d think that the answer would be simple: as big as our biggest printer is wide. But it turns out that the sky’s the limit. Instead of making artwork fit the panels, the panels can be made to fit the artwork.

The OEC designed five large-scale panels for the brand new Mathias lab at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC) in Edgewater, Maryland. OEC exhibit designer Emily Sloat Shaw’s colorful graphics complement and enliven the lab, designed to be the Smithsonian’s first LEED-platinum building. The panels tell the fascinating history of SERC’s location – from a Nanticoke hunting and fishing ground, to a plantation, and finally a dairy farm before it was bequeathed to the Smithsonian in 1964. Currently SERC’s mission focuses on the connections between people and coastal environments. (Want to know more? Check out their blog when you’re done reading ours.)

It’s a great project for an important new scientific lab. There was just one little – make that really big – catch: their panels are bigger than our biggest printer.

Obviously, this problem has occurred before – we’re not the first place to have to print huge graphics. Previously, panels like this would have been printed, laminated, seamed, and mounted by hand. And if you think that process sounds long and laborious you would be correct.

For the Mathias lab, graphic specialist Jessica Schick printed the panels directly on the substrate. Cutting the panels around the artwork required incredibly precise measurements. Our raster image processing (RIP) program and the CNC router allow for just that – panels cut within 1/100 of an inch! The individual panels were pieced together on-site to create the full-sized graphics.

OEC installed the graphics for the September 19th opening. It went seamlessly.

1 prepping
Fabricator Jordan Tierney installs the 50 Years of Exploration graphic panel.


2 graphic
The finished panel installed at SERC’s Mathias Lab.


3 installed
The colorful graphic panels line the hallway of the Mathias Lab.