Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Vibrant Visions: Pochoir prints in the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum Library

The Cooper-Hewitt is a (and maybe THE) national design museum and library located in New York and within the Smithsonian Libraries group/network. Here they have collected art deco prints from 1900-1930 in a particular style call Pochoir, a labor-intensive form of stenciling and screen printing popular all over Europe and centered in Paris that produced vivid, distinctive prints. The collections site has an introduction briefly explaining the history and process of the style as well as a linked bibliography on the style. There is also a link to the Cooper-Hewitt's main site and a link to the collection of about 37 images.

Selection: Despite having only 37 images this is a well curated collection. Approximately 25 artists/illustrators are represented, with four main categories of prints: Architecture, bookbinding, fashion, and patterns. The site appears well-managed (pleasing interface, no broken links) but there is no "meta" description of the collection policy or process, no usage stats, etc. The Smithsonian Library system apparently owns most of these prints, as their "signature" is included with each .JPEG picture file. The bibliography linked in the intro seems to offer more information on the the books or journals most of these prints came from, but that is all the provenance the user is likely to get from this digital collection. The collection is interoperable in that individual pages and images are linkable.

Metadata: each image has a "Closer View" link with data on the artist (with lifespan) and year the piece was created, as well as the physical source the image came from. There is nothing besides this, meaning no individual ID, provenance, info on rights or property, etc. The images are slightly cross referenced: they can culled up by topic (see above) or artist from the main collection page. This collection would fall short for in depth research considering the lack of proper metadata, its small size and the lack of searchability (I put a few of these names into Google Image Search, which I figure was a good litmus test, and none of these particular images came up)

Objects: The prints are as vibrant as the description makes them out to be. When viewed with the "closer view" link each image is a fairly large JPEG (maybe too large, as seen above), which has its problems as a format concerning loss of resolution but is widespread and popular. Considering the lack of metadata concerning the authenticity, history, or authority of the images, one would imagine the objects in this collections are or will be better digitally preserved somewhere else so perhaps a preservable file format isn't the main goal.

Audience: The images are of a nice size and grouped in a way where someone looking for Pochoir prints (this sites google status for "pochoir prints"=2nd hit! easily findable for the masses is a good thing) could browse by style of print or by their particular artist. The introduction and small collection size serve as a nice introduction to the style for someone simply interested. However, the lack of metadata concerning such crucial issues as authority, history, and use and its small size would probably discourage serious research, especially since this style of print-making seemed very "tactile" and would require viewing in person by a serious researcher.

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