How might access to 3D models change the experience of sculpture?

Charles Rudy, Cornish Red Chicken, 1945, Gift of Mrs. Charles Rudy. James A. Michener Art Museum. Photographed in Virtually Rudy, 2018 Exhibition.

In 2015, the Michener partnered with the Google Cultural Institute 3D Operations team to digitize twenty-six objects from the Michener’s permanent collection, making these works accessible in 3D to a global audience. The Museum was the first institution on the East Coast and the fourth institution in the United States to do so. Fifteen sculptures by Charles Rudy (1904-1986) were among the first pieces at the Michener to be scanned and exhibited online. Virtually Rudy is the first exhibition to explore new dimensions, both physical and virtual, of Rudy’s work.

Working with the Entrepreneur Institute at Perkiomen School, the students of its Additive Manufacturing class, and the Perk Tech Hub, this exhibition explores the possibilities offered with the access of a 3D printer and other new technologies to better explore Charles Rudy‘s sculptures.

3D Models of Charles Rudy sculptures printed courtesy of the Perkiomen School in Pennsburg, PA.

A 3D printer creates a solid 3D physical object from a digital model, printing layers of the digitally sliced model into 2D layers, one on top of another. The types of printers range and can print more than just the typical plastic filament; more advanced printers use powdered forms of polymer or metal! The uses of 3D printers are only now being explored as different industries put them to the test. Not only used by artists and museums, 3D printing has expanded to the fields of medicine, automotive, fashion, research, and architecture, just to name a few. The printing process can take a long time depending on the size of the object. For example, the Sleeping Pig from the Virtually Rudy exhibition took over 107 hours to create!

Before the arrival of 3D printers and the models they provide, visitors would rarely be allowed to touch artifacts or objects in a museum collection. Having touchable models allows for a new kind of learning experience that creates accessibility for a variety of audiences. For example, these models can be handled by visitors or printed in relief for visitors with visual impairments. The digital files can be downloaded and explored virtually as well to be used in new innovative ways.

Another way museums use 3D printing is to help with restoration and preservation of objects and for research. This process can even be used to reconstruct entire objects that may have been destroyed or to recreate pieces to fit into broken sections.

The Ultimaker, a 3D printer featured in the Virtually Rudy exhibition, courtesy of the Perkiomen School in Pennsburg, PA.

Virtually Rudy: New Dimensions in Sculpture will be on view at the Michener Art Museum now through July 1, 2018.

View Charles Rudy’s sculptures in 3D on Sketchfab.

To learn more, download this gallery handout.

Download activities you can do in conjunction with his work during your visit to the exhibition including: Life on the Farm (.pdf) and Touching Duplicates (.pdf).