PCF Chairman Charles Gregson (left) and PMSA Chairman, John Lewis OBE (right) have signed a Partnership Agreement between the Public Catalogue Foundation and the Public Monuments and Sculpture Association to collaborate on a project to digitise public sculpture throughout the UK. This project will have huge significance for the protection of the nation’s sculptural heritage.
The PMSA will work with the PCF to create one comprehensive, searchable, digital database of sculpture in the UK from the eleventh century onwards, which will be freely available to the public online. The project, entitled ‘Your Sculpture’, will result in a substantial improvement in public awareness of what is arguably the finest public collection of sculpture in the world.
A key PMSA initiative has been the ground breaking National Recording Project which is searchable on the PMSA web site (www.pmsa.org.uk). In this new partnership, the PMSA will use its NRP expertise to take responsibility for outdoor sculpture in the public realm. While the PCF, which has been immensely successful in producing a digitised record of publicly-owned oil paintings under its ‘Your Paintings’ project, will have responsibility for indoor sculpture in public museums and public collections. The partnership will enable the PMSA to complete the National Recording Project by providing total UK coverage as well as updating existing geographical areas and also adding new photographs of items.
In the ‘Your Sculpture’ project, there will be a heavy emphasis on education and involving schoolchildren and students. The project will also endeavour to attract and engage with new audiences from a wide spectrum of the population. Working together on these areas will allow a more comprehensive approach to the appreciation of sculpture – whether in galleries or in the outdoor realm of public art.
By cataloguing and photographing the nation’s public sculpture, the project will bring to people’s attention the many works in public collections that are in storage and not ordinarily on view. It will also provide these collections with full high quality photographic records of, and online access to, their sculptural holdings.
A joint steering panel of sculpture experts has been in place for almost a year giving substantial support to the partnership and a research project, financed by a grant from the Henry Moore Foundation, has been undertaken to assess the size of the task. Pilots run by the PCF took place at the Borough Museum and Art Gallery at Newcastle-under- Lyme and Staffordshire Heritage and Arts (figs.1 & 2). Both of these collections were thought to be typical of the majority of public collections in the UK because they have a small team dedicated to curating a wide-ranging collection of objects, but have no designated sculpture curator. Also while some of their sculpture is on display, much of it is in store, which poses further problems for the project because it involves additional handling. A pilot also took place in Leeds at Temple Newsam House (fig.3), which tested the challenges of working in an historic house, and at stores in Leeds City Museum, which focused on the challenges arising from handling heavier objects. The pilots enabled the PCF to estimate how many images would be needed per object. It is hoped to produce four views, front, back,left and right sides of most, with less if the sculptures are not easily accessible. The best lighting for different materials was also tested and account taken of the fact that the reflective nature of the surfaces of some sculptures such as bronzes took longer to light. These pilots have enabled a budget to be drawn up based on the projected number of items which could be photographed in a typical day.
Subject to funding being secured, the digitisation process is expected to take about four years. When the project is completed, everyone will be able to search all sculptural items on the database, view high quality images of each, add personal comments and be directed to other sources of information including films and videos from the archives.