The Elizabeth Sage Historic Costume Collection (Sage Collection) at IU is an educational resource and a precious collection of over 25,000 examples of clothing, fashion accessories, and related items spanning centuries of cultural and social history.
As their website states, “Overseen by the Eskenazi School of Art, Architecture + Design, the Sage Collection serves as a resource for students, professionals, and the public. Its museum-quality collection spans more than 250 years and includes a hands-on study collection used in classrooms and fashion design studios.”
This collection exists to preserve the history of each piece, serving as an opportunity to expand existing knowledge through direct examination by researchers and scholars. Much of the collection remains safely stored away, from light and heat, in facilities throughout IU because of the sheer volume of artifacts and the delicate nature of the environment required for their preservation.
In early 2020, the University Information Technology Services (UITS) Research Technologies (RT) Advanced Visualization Lab (AVL) met with the curator and the collections assistant for the Sage Collection to discuss strategies to document, display, and distribute a digital version of the Glenn Close Costume Collection.
The Glenn Close Costume Collection consists of more than 800 donated pieces, costumes, and other items that Close carefully collected from the beginning of her career. The AVL’s advanced imaging and acquisition capabilities were a perfect match for the challenge of high-resolution object digitization, so a partnership was formed.
In March of 2020, IU campuses throughout the state were vacated due to COVID-19 precautions and social distancing guidelines precluded any group or in-person appointments to study the collection. As the COVID-19 shutdown extended into the summer and scholarly access to the collection was inhibited, the need to digitize the collection and share it online became much more important.
In the fall of 2020, AVL personnel met with Kelly Richardson, the curator of the Glenn Close Costume Collection, to digitize the first set of movie history treasures with the Ortery automated photography system. They photographed one-of-a-kind jewelry props from Close’s movies, such as 101 Dalmatians, 102 Dalmatians, and The Stepford Wives.
When reflecting on the AVL’s work, Richardson says, “Sage Collection staff were so pleased to partner with the Advanced Visualization Lab to digitally capture some iconic costume and costume elements featured in The Art of the Character: Highlights from the Glenn Close Costume Collection at the Eskenazi Museum of Art May 6–November 15. Hopefully, this technology will provide virtual visitors an in-depth look at these incredible pieces, and I look forward to working with the AVL in the future to digitally capture a wide range of fashion and dress objects in the Sage Collection.”
To photograph the collection, each item was carefully placed into a lightbox and centered on an automated turntable. Basking in an array of hundreds of LED lights on a perfectly smooth stage, the treasures seemed to be shimmering and floating on a pure-white background.
One item was a delicate tiara inlaid with glittering rhinestones; another was a tiny, bright green bejeweled frog pin; yet another was a set of fantastic necklaces with an incredible arrangement of charms, jewels, and precious metals with matching bracelets.
Each item was a study unto itself. Sequences of high-resolution photos were taken as the turntable rotated by a few degrees for each shot and within a few hours, the AVL had acquired thousands of stunning catalog-worthy photographs. Each treasure was perfectly lit, color corrected, and automatically masked by the software, saving dozens of hours of post-production labor. After six hours, the first digitization session was complete.
Sage Collection staff were so pleased to partner with the Advanced Visualization Lab to digitally capture some iconic costume and costume elements featured in The Art of the Character: Highlights from the Glenn Close Costume Collection.
In early January 2021, the AVL met up again with Richardson and set up the remote digitization system, mere feet from thousands of objects with significant value and cultural history. The first costume the AVL digitized was The Dragon Suit, a work of art from the movie, 102 Dalmatians. Featuring thousands of jewels and beads, intricate stitching, and textile layering, the artistry, and handcraft were on display, glittering and shining as the dress rotated for each photograph.
The next item was a yellow dress from The Stepford Wives, again featuring a dizzying array of delicate patterns of jewels, lace, and other textiles. The final item the AVL digitized was a stunning blue 18th-century dress from the movie, Dangerous Liaisons; each layer was diligently photographed and archived. As the day ended and the photographs were downloaded to memory cards, the significance of the moment was realized. The Sage Collection now had the beginnings of a high-quality digital archive, and a worldwide audience awaited.