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Wisconsin Decorative Arts Database

About the Wisconsin Decorative Arts Database

In 2006, the Chipstone Foundation, the Wisconsin Historical Society and the Material Culture Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison began a collaborative project to find and document decorative arts produced by Wisconsin craftspeople in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The result is the Wisconsin Decorative Arts Database, a publicly accessible online archive of hundreds of Wisconsin objects, including furniture, ceramics, textiles and metalwork from the collections of historical societies, museums and private individuals throughout the state. The Wisconsin Decorative Arts Database is the first resource of its kind and is an essential starting point for the study of Wisconsin material culture and craft history.

Method and Scope

The project was inspired by the innovative fieldwork undertaken by the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts in the 1970s and 1980s to document thousands of early regional artifacts and craftspeople in seven southern states, creating an indispensable research archive for the study of southern history and material culture. The Wisconsin Decorative Arts Database provides a similar resource for the state of Wisconsin, taking MESDA's template into the digital age with a publicly accessible online database.

Content

The photographs and catalog records that make up the Wisconsin Decorative Arts Database are the result of collaborations with museums and historical societies throughout the state (see the Contributors list for more information about individual sites). Project Coordinator Emily Pfotenhauer worked closely with each contributor to select, photograph and research every object added to the database. Each online catalog record includes one or more high-quality photographs, a detailed physical description, documentation of provenance and family genealogy when available, an analysis of the object's historical context, and resources for further research. Images and catalog entries are also available through Recollection Wisconsin, a portal to digital collections from Wisconsin libraries, archives, museums and historical societies.

Audience

The Wisconsin Decorative Arts Database is an essential resource for students, local historians, artisans, antiques collectors, and others who seek information about material life and craft traditions in early Wisconsin. The broad range of artifacts documented in the database provides important evidence of settlement patterns, cultural change and industrial development, making it a valuable resource not only for Wisconsin audiences, but for all students of 19th and early 20th-century American decorative arts and material culture.

Funding

Financial support for the Wisconsin Decorative Arts Database was provided by the Chipstone Foundation via the Charles Hummel Fellowship (2006-2009) and grants (2009-2011). Additional funding was provided by the Kaufman Americana Foundation (2009-2011).

Technical Specifications

Digital photographs in the database were created using a Canon Digital Rebel XTi EOS camera and adjusted using ACDSee Pro Photo Manager or Adobe Photoshop. Metadata was developed following Wisconsin Heritage Online standards, which are based on Dublin Core metadata elements. The database is structured, searched, and viewed using CONTENTdm digital collection management software. Keyword search terms are taken from two standardized vocabularies for the cataloging of museum objects: the Getty Research Institute's Art and Architecture Thesaurus and The Revised Nomenclature for Museum Cataloging (aka Chenhall's Nomenclature).

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