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Imagine you are a prominent socialite living in Bladensburg, Maryland, Washington, D.C., or even Philadelphia, in early 1816. Rumour abounds that Rosalie Stier-Calvert, wife of George Calvert, the prominent planter from the first family of Maryland has consented finally to show her father's collection of paintings from Europe in the couple's home Riversdale. The collection, sixty-three paintings, most of which she has kept crated up virtually since they first arrived with Henry J. Stier in 1794, contains works by Rubens, Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Brueghel, and others. Names you know, works you do not. Excitement builds.
Such was the scenario in late winter/ early spring 1816, when overnight Riversdale became the destination of art lovers as far-flung as Boston and Philadelphia to see works around which much legend and lore had grown in the over twenty years that they had been in America, in crates. And now, with Napoleon safely defeated in Europe and, as a result, the works to be returned back to Henry J. Stier in Antwerp, Rosalie Stier-Calvert has consented to hang all the works in the house for one great and glorious show.
The Riversdale House Museum is recalling this fascinating moment in the history of the family, the house, indeed, even the development of the history of art in this country, in an exhibition telling the story, "Some of the Finest Paintings ever in America," a title taken from a description of the collection from one enthused visitor in a letter to her sister.
Samantha Ferris, head of Education at the Riversdale House Museum (and a Maryland and Department alumna!), approached Quint Gregory, director of the Michelle Smith Collaboratory for Visual Culture, in August 2015 about how the Collaboratory might be able to help them employ digital technolgies to tell this story. She was inspired especially by Augmented Reality, which she had seen showcased at the Collaboratory in June 2015 during a one-day symposium for area heritage centers and museum organized by Quint Gregory and Nicole Riesenberger, Graduate Assistant and D.I.G. Fellow in the Collaboratory.
In the intervening months, Quint and Nicole, and Caroline Paganussi, another Graduate Assistant and D.I.G. Fellow in the Collaboratory, have designed a number of interventions using Augmented Reality to complement the wonderful show Riversdale staff have mounted. The show focuses only on sixteen works that can be identified from the various inventories of the Steir collection, although it is known that sixty-three paintings in fact were present. While Riversdale staff are limited to framed reproductions, most, but not all, to scale, Augmented Reality is a platform that allows Collaboratory staff to enhance visitors' experience of the works themselves, including displaying them at correct size, in period hanging solutions, and with glorious detail made possible by pinch-and-zoom action on the iPad tablet. It's of piece with what Quint Gregory likes to call "picking the low-hanging fruit."
For more of the tale, head over to the Collaboratory's blog post.
Congratulations to Caroline, Nicole, and Quint!