By Anna Reser
During the first week of February, the museums, libraries and special collections of the world offered up images from their collections as coloring book pages for #ColorOurCollections. Led by the New York Academy of Medicine, institutions posted images to social media feeds and hosted coloring events at various places. Maps, anatomical woodcuts, botanical illustrations, and illuminated capitals from medieval manuscripts flooded Twitter and an enthusiastic public sent their colored versions back to institutions.Given the number of participating organizations that specialize in science and medicine, the event is a SciArt happening itself that highlights the intersection of art and science.
#ColorOurCollections was a tantalizing glimpse of the wealth of visual resources housed by museums and libraries. Fortunately some museums have embraced tools like Flickr to offer public domain images to the public without the stifling interface of institutional webpages and the red tape of access policies. In honor of the spirit of #ColorOurCollections, below are 5 of the best collections for artists interested in science and technology.
San Diego Air & Space Museum This collection contains the obligatory photographs rockets, airplanes, and of course rocket scientists and aviators, but also a number of management diagrams and charts that are a useful reminder of the massive bureaucracy that underlay 20th century science, both formally and theoretically.
The National Museum of Health & Medicine Albums covering everything from dentistry to veterinary pathology to radiology contain haunting and often disturbing images of illness and injury, but also stunning historical photographs of bone specimens and other artifacts. Both the body itself and the conventions used to represent it should be of interest to artists and illustrators working with anatomy and natural history.
The Project Apollo Archive These NASA photographs, taken by Apollo astronauts, were digitized by a private citizen in his spare time. All of the iconic images are in here, but the out of focus, over-or-under exposed, accidental misfires, astronaut selfies, and obsessive documentation of the inside of the spacecraft are the real gems. Shot on the best film with the best cameras of the day, even the most unpracticed and “incorrect” images are compelling.
The Internet Archive Book Images This collection suffers from the best of all problems; the Archive is too busy updating to organize it. At the time of writing, the top of the photo stream was tons of biological illustrations of beetles, and there’s plenty of other images to feed an artist’s research about illustrating conventions in natural history.
The New York Public Library NYPL’s main site isn’t actually difficult to use or blockaded by paywalls and library credential sign-ins, but their Flickr is the easiest way to get to these Cyanotypes of British Algae by Anna Atkins, and you definitely want to get to them as quickly as possible.
In addition, the Digital Public Library of America is fast becoming a hub for open public collections, and a little time spent with their search will lead you to even more treasures.