February 13, 2004

Introduction to the hayinart database.

In November, 2003, I'd made a simple, hard-to-search, list of well over a thousand images of hay, divided into two parts, the first for paintings and graphic arts, the second for photographs. In order to make the list more searchable (with index terms and more keywords), more descriptive (with annotations) and more visually helpful and attractive (with thumbnail images), I constructed a database. Two years later, we had loaded over 5200 images and added a "place" feature which allows you to search by the location of the scene. Four years later, the rate of acquisition has inevitably slowed, but two trips to Maramures in Romania, an inadvertent museum of medieval hay-making, and many visits to museums en route, has built the collection to over 6500. The ongoing discovery of new items is a result of repeated sleuthing on the internet and in libraries and their catalogs, and, even more gratifyingly, of tips and gifts of a growing circle of interested friends and hay-mates.

The database can be used in several ways. To search for names, keywords, periods, formats, and so on, click on “view” and then fill in the search form. For example, if you wanted to find the hay works of Gauguin, enter “gauguin” (without the quotes) in the “artist” box. If you want to retrieve the more than 30 British watercolors of hay in the 19th century, use the pull down menus for “artist country,” “medium” and “period/style” to the appropriate terms. For subject searching, use the “keyword” box at the bottom of the form. The essay on Hay on Water, was based on several successive searches for such keywords as “barge” and “boat.” The keyword “water” was much too productive, since it retrieved all the watercolors!

The images vary greatly in quality. In many cases, they do not do justice to the original work, but in most cases, even the thumbnails, even those in black and white, do contain useful information, especially on content and composition. And they do allow the user to discriminate among several similar images by the same artist, for example among Martin Johnson Heade’s 120 marsh hay paintings, which all use the same elements, all organized and illuminated in slightly different ways. Often, a superior version of the image is available by clicking on the source URL, which may also lead to additional commentary and data on location and ownership. Images copied from books and magazines have been scanned at a medium resolution (100 dpi) on an affordable but versatile HP instrument (psc 2175). The sacrifice in precision and quality ought to reassure the copyright owners that these reproductions are simulations for research purposes only. If and when the illustrations become part of a printed publication, the quest for higher quality versions and formal permissions will, of course, be pursued. I've marked my own favorites with my equivalent of Michelin's *** -- three stacks that look like this ^^^. If you enter ^^^ as a keyword, you'll find them.

The database is obviously a free-for-all web resource. We’ll be delighted if other scholars find it useful and we’d like to hear about its utility and the kind of research it has assisted.

Posted by Alan Ritch at February 13, 2004 05:52 PM