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A hands-on experience with the Thomson Collection

March 4th, 2014

The touchscreen recently installed in the Thomson Collection of European Art (Gallery 107). Photo by Craig Boyko/Art Gallery of Ontario.

The touchscreen recently installed in the Thomson Collection of European Art (Gallery 107). Photo by Craig Boyko/Art Gallery of Ontario.

The Thomson Collection of European Art at the Art Gallery of Ontario includes about 900 objects, mainly northern European sculpture and decorative arts dating from the early Middle Ages to the mid-19th century.

In addition to the collection’s cornerstone artwork, Peter Paul Rubens’ The Massacre of the Innocents, it has both sacred and secular objects including a renowned group of medieval and Baroque ivories, as well as fine examples of silver, Limoges enamel, boxwood carving, medieval manuscripts, carved portrait medallions and nearly 100 portrait miniatures from the 16th to the 19th centuries. It’s a varied collection that captures visitors’ interest, and they’ve told us that they want to know more.

Staff from our Digital Services department worked hard to create a new entry point to the Thomson Collection, in the form of an interactive touchscreen. You’ll find the screen close to the AGO’s entrance (Gallery 107), a room that also contains two paintings (from the Thomson Collection’s Canadian works), a ship model and a vitrine full of small objects from the European Collection.

These objects and paintings represent the Thomson Collection’s European, Canadian and Ship Model components, and each object has a story behind it and reason, including why Ken Thomson collected and appreciated it. In addition to getting an introduction to Thomson and the legacy of his collection, visitors can learn about the objects in depth by selecting them on the touchscreen. They are also directed to other spaces in the Gallery with more of the same kind of object.

Photo by Craig Boyko/Art Gallery of Ontario.

Photo by Craig Boyko/Art Gallery of Ontario.

How’d we do it?

The display screen is Microsoft’s 55-inch Perceptive Pixel touch display (learn more about it here). To get the project up and running, AGO photographers had to re-shoot each item using “focus stacking.” This process extends the depth of field in a shot (making more of it in sharp focus) without losing file data using multiple exposures and post-production software.

A folding knife with boxwood handle from the Thomson Collection of European Art. The image on the right — created using the photo-stacking technique — has an extended depth of field.

A folding knife with boxwood handle from the Thomson Collection of European Art. The image on the right — created using the photo-stacking technique — has an extended depth of field.

A shallow depth of field has always been an issue with macro photography. The objects included in the touchscreen project are almost all very small, so we adopted this photo merging or “stacking” software as a new approach. It allows the viewer to see these detailed objects more clearly than ever before.

What’s next? Our Digital team is full of ideas on how to make the experience even better, including enhanced way-finding and the ability to create personalized tours. We hope you’ll spend a few minutes with the touchscreen on your next visit. And if you’ve already had a chance to try it out, share your thoughts on the experience in the comments below.

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