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DISPLAYING POSTS TAGGED: model (2)

Cork Colosseum x-ray

Author
by Kate C
Publish date
17 April 2014
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An x-ray machine usually employed for mammography examined an unconventional patient earlier this year: a model of the Colosseum made from cork around 1800. Thanks to generous assistance from Lake Imaging in North Melbourne, object conservator Sarah Babister now has a view inside one of our most curious objects.

Four people discuss photograph Conservators Sarah and Dani show radiographers Jeff and Ghazia a photo of the Colosseum model.
Source: Museum Victoria

cork Colosseum model The facade of the Colosseum model. (HT 24386)
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Radiographer Ghazia adjusted the settings of the mammography machine to accomodate this unusual material—cork is much less dense than human tissue—and produced wonderfully clear and informative images of several pieces of the Colosseum.

Woman with x-ray machine Ghazia placing a piece of the Colosseum on the mammography machine.
Source: Museum Victoria

Woman with computer Ghazia adjusting the levels of the x-ray to best show the hidden structure within the cork Colosseum.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

We think that our Colosseum was built by English model-maker Richard Du Bourg (or Dubourg), but in the absence of a signature, Sarah is looking for characteristic materials and construction techniques that could confirm its maker. Further research by historian (and the museum’s Head of Humanities) Richard Gillespie and genealogist Neil Gill is fleshing out the intriguing story of Du Bourg and his models; Richard recently visited similar objects in overseas collections for comparison. Sarah and Richard will present a talk about the model and its story next month as a part of the History, Cultures and Collections seminar series.

From 1775 to 1819, Du Bourg’s models of classical ruins were the height of fashion and his a well-known London exhibition. “He’s a fascinating character,” says Sarah. Notoriously, his working model of Vesuvius destroyed an entire exhibition when its eruption set fire to all the other models on display. “He lived until he was in his early 90s and even though he’d been very famous he was living in poverty.”

Sarah explains that cork models “were really popular at a certain time and were kept as tools to teach students. Then they fell out of fashion and a lot of them were disposed of.” This may explain Du Bourg’s impoverished old age, and is the reason why the museum has this model at all – in 1929 it was sent from the Science Museum in London to the Industrial and Technological Museum in Melbourne.

cork Colosseum detail Sarah holding a large piece of the Colosseum model.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The model is over a metre wide and in poor condition. The base it sits on is cracked and the gesso applied to the perimeter is flaking, and several sections of wall have broken off. These broken sections are a mixed blessing, since without them there could be no x-rays, which reveal the lead pencil marking lines, and pins and nails used to hold the pieces of cork together. This information may help confirm whether Du Bourg made the model, but will also help Sarah reattach the broken pieces.

X-ray image of a piece of the cork Colosseum X-ray image of a piece of the cork Colosseum. The metal pins, and decorative carvings covered in lead paint, appear white.
Image: Lake Imaging
Source: Museum Victoria
 

“Most of the pieces are there so the model would be virtually complete with the exception of a few small columns which might need to be replicated,” she says. “I’d love to put it back together so it can be viewed how it should be viewed because it’s such an amazing object. The level of detail in the carving is wonderful, and cork lends itself so well to representing that ruinous state.”

To learn what the x-rays revealed, come along to Richard and Sarah's free seminar on 14 May, titled For the Nobility, Gentry & Curious in General: Richard Du Bourg’s Classical Exhibition, 1775-1819.

Links:

Cork Colosseum model on Collections Online

Pearling lugger photogrammetry

Author
by Kate C
Publish date
24 February 2012
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Curator Michael Gregg, of the Maritime History department of the Western Australian Museum in Fremantle, recently visited the Scienceworks collection store to take highly specialised photographs of a model ship in our Transport Collection.

Michael Gregg with the pearling lugger model Michael Gregg with the model of pearling lugger Mary.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The model is an exact replica of the pearling lugger Mary that operated out of Broome and Darwin in the 1920s and 30s. It was commissioned and partly constructed by Lieutenant Commander Geoffrey Ingleton RAN in the 1930s to document a uniquely Australian type of vessel that was rapidly disappearing.

In 1913, the pearling industry was worth a fortune to Western Australia in exports. As Michael puts it, "Australia didn't ride on sheep's back, it was on the pearl oyster's back." In one year alone, 300 new luggers were registered. "At one stage, the guy who built this boat was turning out a new lugger every 14 days."

Michael is interested in the model because it captures details of design and construction that have been lost with the demise of the pearling lugger. "There are no Fremantle-built pearling luggers still in existence in their original form," explains Michael. This is in part due to mechanisation; the original Mary was herself fitted with an engine by the 1930s. But more significant was the illegal rebuilding of luggers and recycling of registration numbers by unscrupulous operators. World War II took a toll on the lugger fleet also, as boats were requisitioned by the Navy or destroyed ahead of a feared Japanese invasion..

"There were all sorts of shenanigans that went on with the pearling industry," Michael says. "The best way to run the industry economically was to import Malay and Japanese labour. Come the early 1900s, the White Australia Policy meant you could bring in indentured seamen to work on ships for up to two years but they were only allowed to work as crew, not boatbuilders." Pearling masters got around this technicality by signing up imported labour as crew, but quietly issuing them boatbuilding tasks as 'maintenance'.

There were three distinct types of pearling lugger built to cope with the different conditions in Broome, the Torres Strait and Shark Bay. The nature of these vessels – rapidly built to a standard pattern and considered reasonably expendable – means they were rarely preserved in model form. It was only Ingleton's interest in recording history that inspired the construction of this model, and it's being used now exactly as Ingleton intended.

Detail of pearling lugger model Detail of the Mary model showing its beautifully detailed rigging and fittings.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

"We were just gobsmacked when we discovered this model because we thought we knew of all the significant lugger material in Australia," says Michael. "We regularly trawl the net looking for references to pearling luggers. Because there was sufficient information in your Collections Online and it's searchable, it popped up in Google." One of the most exciting prospects for the model, and the reason for Michael's visit, is that he's using it to help develop photogrammetric software and techniques that will conserve Australia's maritime technology.

Michael Gregg taking photos Michael Gregg at work taking photos of the pearling lugger model in the Scienceworks collection store, experimenting with a 3D camera.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Photogrammetry uses a series of photos analysed by a computer to build a 3D virtual model of an object. According to Michael, it's commonly used by police to help reconstruct road crashes. "It's great for working out the distance between two points in space, but we're really pushing the boundaries of what it can do." While the process will be most useful in recording full-sized ships, the Mary model invites some experimentation; he was using a 3D camera see if it would help simplify the laborious process of matching target points between different photographs. "It's much easier to work on a full-sized boat because you can stick targets all over it and nobody minds. With a museum-quality model, we can't do that. This is the first time I've recorded rigging simultaneously, too."

Michael sees photogrammetry as an incredibly useful tool for museums and more. Ultimately he hopes the software and techniques he and his colleagues are developing can do something absolutely extraordinary: use historical photographs to create something you can hold in your hand. The craze for stereoscopic photographs around the turn of the century produced countless images of one view from two slightly different angles, and these might one day allow 3D recreations of long-gone ships, buildings, artefacts and more. "It's very, very exciting."

Links:

Western Australian Museum - Maritime

Pearl lugger Mary on Collections Online

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Updates on what's happening at Melbourne Museum, the Immigration Museum, Scienceworks, the Royal Exhibition Building, and beyond.

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