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For Halloween, VCU team 3-D scans artifacts at the Edgar Allan Poe Museum

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Bernard Means, Ph.D., director of the Virtual Curation Laboratory, 3-D scans the 1956 plaster mold of the Edgar Allan Poe statue that sits in Richmond’s Capitol Square.

Virginia Commonwealth University professor and a handful of VCU students visited the Edgar Allan Poe Museum on Monday morning to 3-D scan a variety of spooky artifacts and sculptures, just in time for Halloween.

The visit by Bernard Means, Ph.D., an anthropology professor in the School of World Studies in the College of Humanities and Sciences, was an opportunity for students to gain experience with 3-D scanning, but also to provide the Poe Museum with 3-D-printed replicas of items from the museum’s collection.

Means, director of the Virtual Curation Laboratory — which specializes in the 3-D scanning and 3-D printing of historic and archaeological objects, including many notable artifacts from museums across Virginia and around the world — scanned a 1956 plaster mold of the Poe statue that sits in Capitol Square, a marble and bronze Actor’s Monument to Poe circa 1882-84, and a small trinket box that was one of the few possessions owned by Poe’s wife, Virginia Clemm Poe, at the time of her death.

“The basic reasons why we are working with the Poe Museum,” Means said, “are to use 3-D scanning to help the Poe Museum promote themselves; to create 3-D prints that can be used for education and outreach purposes, as the original objects are too fragile; and to provide VCU students with materials that they can use in my or other classes to explore the rich heritage of Richmond.”

The team 3-D scans a small trinket box that was one of the few possessions owned by Poe’s wife, Virginia Clemm Poe, at the time of her death.
The team 3-D scans a small trinket box that was one of the few possessions owned by Poe’s wife, Virginia Clemm Poe, at the time of her death.

Chris Semtner, curator of the Poe Museum, said Means’ 3-D scanning and printing of artifacts allows the museum’s visitors to interact with the items in new and interesting ways.

“This gives the VCU students a chance to practice [3-D scanning] techniques, but also when they 3-D print things for us, it gives us a new way to interpret the artifacts,” said Semtner. “By interpretation, I mean: telling the artifacts’ stories to the visitors who come here. For instance, with the key [to Edgar Allan Poe’s trunk], we can’t just pass it around the room. But now we can — we can pass around a 3-D-printed replica and say, ‘What sort of device would this open? What kind of trunk would this open? How does it feel in your hand?’”

The museum will sometimes bring along 3-D-printed replicas of artifacts when they visit schools. “We can bring a virtual museum to them, and allow them to hold these recreations,” Semtner said.

The Poe Museum also has used 3-D-printed replicas for “touch tours” for the visually impaired, he added.

“We have vision impaired people come and visit and they want to have a museum experience too,” he said. “This allows them to have something that they can hold and touch and get a feel without us having to give them the original artifacts.”

Means 3-D scans a portrait of Poe to create a digital animation.
Means 3-D scans a portrait of Poe to create a digital animation.

The Virtual Curation Laboratory frequently partners with small museums to help them promote their missions, as well as to provide VCU students with an opportunity to interact with and learn from the museums, Means said.

“We are particularly focusing our efforts on museums within the Richmond community, as one way that VCU can help give back to the community,” he said. “Some of the items that we 3-D scan are being incorporated by teachers in the area into their lessons.”

One teacher in Henrico County, for example, has developed a lesson for eighth graders around the Poe key that Means’ team 3-D scanned during a previous visit.

On Monday, the team took turns scanning artifacts amidst the Poe Museum’s Halloween decorations, including small tombstones lining the walkways outside and a skeleton peeking down from atop the staircase.

“Halloween is like our Christmas,” Semtner said. 

As the team waited for the 3-D scanning process to finish, they traded a few favorite Poe puns. 

“What did Edgar Allan Poe put in his hair?” Means said. “Poe-made.”

“Why was Poe’s wife’s trinket box so small?” said Brenna Geraghty, Virtual Curation Laboratory lab manager. “Because she was Poe.”

Brenna Geraghty, lab manager of the Virtual Curation Laboratory, 3-D scans the Actor’s Monument to Poe from 1882 to 1884.
Brenna Geraghty, lab manager of the Virtual Curation Laboratory, 3-D scans the Actor’s Monument to Poe from 1882 to 1884.

 

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