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Silhouettes

Last Month, The Smithsonian announced the launch of Smithsonian Open Access, an initiative that removes Smithsonian copyright restrictions from about 2.8 million of its digital collection images and nearly two centuries of data. This means that people everywhere can now download, transform and share this open access content for any purpose, for free, without further permission from the Smithsonian.


Among museums and cultural institutions, this is the largest and most interdisciplinary open access program to date. “Open access is a milestone for the Smithsonian in our efforts to reach, educate and inspire audiences,” said Smithsonian Secretary Lonnie G. Bunch III. “Through this initiative, we are empowering people across the globe to re-imagine and repurpose our collections in creative new ways.”


Gift of Ira Blount

Anacostia Community Museum / Smithsonian Free Collection


In this paper silhouette cutting, a woman sits in a ladder-back chair, hand-sewing a nine-patch quilt that covers her lap like a full skirt. While the form obscures the quilter’s identity, the image may pay homage to artist Ira Blount’s mother, a seamstress who taught her sons to sew and made quilts to keep their family warm. The piece invites viewers to consider how the domestic arts have changed over time. In our current moment, when advances in technology and mass-production have eliminated the need for many traditional home crafts, these media are transformed into pleasurable hobbies. After moving to Washington, DC following World War II, Ira Blount mastered dozens of artisanal crafts. His love for crafting, learning, and community engagement would endure over the course of his long life and career.


Gift of Arthur S. Vernay

Cooper Hewitt / Smithsonian Design Museum


This seated full-length figure (facing right), is of a woman in a rocking chair, knitting. Research is still in progress at The Smithsonian.


Gift of William Greenbaum (c 1783)

National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution


Safe and Convenient Machine for Drawing Silhouettes:

Rough Translation: Here is the character that I bring to the Silhouette of a small young person. I find the goodness without much shrewdness. Clarity in ideas and the talent to conceive them with ease. A very industrious mind, but which is not dominated by an imagination. Very lively, and not attached to a scrupulous exactitude. We do not find in the copy, the character of gaiety announced by the original. But, the nose is the winner in the silhouette - it expresses more finesse. Artist: Rudolph Schellenburg, 1740 - 1806


“Open access exemplifies the Smithsonian’s core mission: the ‘increase and diffusion’ of knowledge our institution has fostered for nearly 175 years,” said John Davis, interim director of the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, who led the initiative from its inception. “With Smithsonian Open Access, we’re inviting people everywhere to make that knowledge their own––to share and build on our digital collections for everything from creative works, to education and scholarly research, to bold innovations we have yet to imagine.”


Take some time and scroll through the amazing collections. I typed in Silhouettes, Quilting, Fabric, Sewing - the various categories puts one in touch with museum specimens, artifacts and visual treasures.


There are over 2,000 images for "buttons" alone - in various mediums like, wood, brass, silver, ivory, with pearls, semi-precious stones, and more.


Bequest of Julia Hutchins Wolcott (ca. 1780)

Four buttons depicting a young woman catching a bird, from bird call to bird cage, all in carved ivory over a colored foil ground.


From the website: Welcome to Smithsonian Open Access, where you can download, share, and reuse millions of the Smithsonian’s images—right now, without asking. With new platforms and tools, you have easier access to more than 3 million 2D and 3D digital items from our collections—with many more to come. This includes images and data from across the Smithsonian’s 19 museums, nine research centers, libraries, archives, and the National Zoo.

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