The Seattle Art Museum Online Scholarly Catalogue of Chinese Painting and Calligraphy - #mcn2012sam


Fri, 11/09/2012 - 3:30pm - 5:00pm
Track: D. Digitization Strategy
Room: Spring


  1. Name: Danielle Uchitelle
    Title: Managing Director
    Organization: Gallery Systems
  2. Name: Michele Miller
    Title: Registrar for the Collection
    Organization: Seattle Art Museum
  3. Name: Polina Soshina
    Title: Lead Designer
    Organization: Web Atelier at Gallery Systems
  4. Name: Alex Hoffman
    Title: Web Developer
    Organization: Web Atelier at Gallery Systems


A project of the Online Scholarly Catalog initiative (OSCI), the Seattle Art Museum catalog of Chinese painting and calligraphy was designed to support scholarly research and interaction with a unique collection of painted scrolls, while providing an immersive experience for the casual user.  The project had to address a number of issues relating to external editorial input, versioning, image presentation for scrolls, and other requirements.  Teaming with a dedicated staff of scholars and technical experts, the project helped provide insight into how such specialized scholarly projects may be addressed in the future.

Session Description:

SAM OSCI Overview
The Seattle Art Museum’s Chinese painting and calligraphy online catalogue brings rare and important art to the public eye by digitizing SAM’s extensive collection of Chinese works. However it is more than a digitization of a collection. The website’s tools allow the scholarly community to engage in conversation and explore in-depth information about specific works of art. Users can study the works of art by viewing them in the great detail. Extreme zooming technology allows for an interesting way to examine fan painting, scrolls and albums. For example, users can view a 40-foot handscroll from a distance and up close to get a sense of the scale and size of the object. When viewing an album users can readily see whether it is in a horizontal or vertical format as well as being able to view images instantly via Ajax technology.
Using a web toolkit developed by Gallery Systems, scholars at the Seattle Museum of Art have annotated every high resolution image in the collection by drawing custom shapes on top of the object images and linking additional information to the outlined area. Now that this information is available to the public, users can view an object along with a full English translation and Chinese transcription at the same time; clicking on any part of the text or any marked region on the image will bring up Chinese transcription and match it up with its translation.  Major works in the catalog are accompanied by extensive essays written by renowned scholars and include comparative images from other collections around the world. Users are invited to contribute to the essays by posting comments, allowing the administrator to incorporate the most interesting comments into the essay.
Leveraging social media techniques, users can have discussions on the site by commenting on specific objects from the collection.  With scholars in mind the site gives users an ability to add region tags to their comments to show which part of the artwork they are referring to.  A “pertinent questions” feature, meant to provoke discussions about the aesthetics, history and artistic choice of important works in the collection, allows scholars to respond to questions posed by online users, which are reviewed and ranked by the Seattle Art Museum. 
This project presented a number of interesting challenges of project management, conceptualization, technical execution, and delivery.  This presentation will discuss these issues with the help project participants from both the content, administrative, and technical teams.

Session Info

  • Type: Full Panel
  • Keywords:
  • Relevance: Potential interest for any museum planning scholarly catalogue project