by Carolyn Tuttle, Spring 2015 Intern
I’m not sure what I expected to gain from my internship with VCU’s Virtual Curation Lab (VCL), but every week is something different. I spend about 5 hours a week in the lab, but sometimes we go on little field trips to other places. We visited Historic Jamestown, where we perused their archaeology lab, and toured the fort. They have an active excavation at the site, which was fascinating to see.
In the VCL, we print mostly plastic replicas of real-life artifacts. There is a scanner that takes pictures of the object from all sides, and we use a computer program to create a single 3-D image of the object. Then, we can print the object. The printed artifacts need to be cleaned once they are printed. Cleaning consists of pulling or cutting off excess plastic material, and removing supports. Supports are what the printer adds to the objects, so that they can stand up on the platform while being printed. Without supports, the object could fall over, which would create a confusing, globby mess. Falling over is especially troublesome when dealing with points, like arrowheads and blades. These items are thin, and have no way of standing up on their own.
After cleaning up printed items, we sometimes paint them, depending on their purpose. If an item is for display, it should be painted to look real. According to Dr. Means, the object should look real from three feet away. Up close, it doesn’t matter whether or not it looks real, because no one will be looking at the object that closely. Additionally, Dr. Means reminds us that printing artifact replicas is not to duplicate the past, but to give an idea of how things looked. There is no secrecy about what artifacts have been printed; no rational curator would attempt to pawn off a printed artifact as original, as the flaws are easy to see.
If the printed artifact has been painted, it will typically then be used for display or education. Part of my internship included making display stands for the artifacts. I made four stands from wood, which appealed to my preference for working with my hands. I enjoy creating things, but I am especially proud of myself for making these displays for the VCL lab. I feel like I’m helping to educate people.