Donated in 1899 by wealthy Detroit drug manufacturer, Frederick Stearns, the Stearn’s Collection is a university collection comprised of over 2,500 historical and contemporary musical instruments from all over the world, with many of the instruments in the collection being particularly fragile or one of a kind. In 1966 Stearns grew to include the only complete Javanese gamelan in the world, and being home to such masterpieces, the Stearns collection has become recognized internationally as unique. In 1974, due to concerns about preservation and display, much of the collection was relocated out of public view. Once residing in Hill Auditorium, the majority of the collection now sits in storage inside an old factory near downtown Ann Arbor.
Current preservation efforts have involved photographing the collection and making the nearly 13,000 resulting images available online. However, over the past year the 3D Lab has been working with Chris Dempsey, curator of the Stearns Collection and Jennifer Brown, a University Library Associate in Learning & Teaching, on a new process for preservation: Utilizing Photogrammetry to document the collection. Photogrammetry is a process that relies on several digital photographs of an artifact to re-construct the physical object into a digital 3D model. While traditional methods of obtaining 3D models often utilize markers placed atop the object, the process of Photogrammetry is largely un-invasive, allowing for minimal, and sometimes, no direct handling of an artifact. Models resulting from this process, when captured properly, are typically very precise and allow the viewer to rotate the object 360 degrees, zoom in and out, measure, or otherwise analyze the object in many cases as though it were actually in front of them.
Equipped with a high resolution digital SLR camera, Jennifer traveled to the warehouse where much of the Stearns collection is now held to document some of the instruments that are not currently on display and have limited accessibility to the general public. Feeding the resulting images into an experimental Photogrammetry software developed for research purposes (“Visual SFM” and “CMVS“), Jennifer processed the photos taken of various instruments into high resolution 3D models that could eventually be placed on the web for more accessible public viewing and student interaction.