As a new member of the Digital + Emerging Media team here at the Cooper-Hewitt, I’ve been spending a lot of time learning about our various projects in process. One of the most enthralling resources I’ve encountered so far is the collections database. Try it out, if you haven’t already; you’ll see why it’s so satisfying to explore.

Here’s an example. I started browsing with the “random” link and it brought me to this collage for a textile by one Alexander Hayden Girard.

Collage for a textile design, by Alexander Girard

Ok, so the collections database has lots of pretty pictures…but so what? Well, the great thing about the collections database is that it exposes relationships and allows you to make connections. Rather than seeing the Girard collage as an isolated object, I can see it in a variety of contexts. For example, if I click on “Alexander Hayden Girard,” I am taken to a page that gives me information not only about Girard, but also people and organizations he has collaborated with and other objects he is connected to. Here is where it gets interesting. I can see the collage in context by viewing it alongside the other objects designed by Girard within the collection, and I can start to answer questions like “is this piece typical of Girard’s style and work?”

Or, instead of looking at other objects designed by Girard, I can take a broader view by clicking on the link in the Period field. In the case of Girard’s “Design for Textile-Quatrefoil,” the period is Postwar. Here I can begin to understand what else was going on in the world of design when Girard made this piece.

Objects from the collection from the postwar period

I see a lot of objects in the postwar period were designed by Tommi Parzinger, who is he? Repeat, repeat, repeat…

No man is an island, and no design is created in a vacuum. The collections database has a long way to go but it is making huge steps towards revealing context and connections between the objects in our collection.

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