Cultural Heritage Spotlight: Welcome to the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History

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Our Cultural institutions Page highlights our ongoing support of museums and cultural institutions with free accounts and access to tools. In Cultural Heritage Spotlight, we’ll explore museums and cultural institutions who are using 3D technology to bring new life to their collections. Today’s blog post features the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History , “a different kind of museum, one that focuses on building community in Santa Cruz County”.

The museum’s 3D collection began through a collaboration between Sketchfab Master Abby Crawford and MAH curator/collections catalyst Marla Novo. Initially the plan was to digitize a collection of garments in advance of a fashion exhibit that opened in the autumn of 2015 (see the blog post on that exhibit here). This collaboration proved to be such a success that we decided to explore the museum’s collections a bit more deeply and start capturing objects that represent different aspects of life in Santa Cruz over the past 200+ years. In many cases these objects have not been on display in some time.

One of the things that sets the MAH collection on Sketchfab apart from other museums’ collections is the sheer range of objects it encompasses. Along with archaeological and historical artifacts, the digital collection also features a number of pieces of art from the last few decades.

A recent example, the Screaming Hand by Abel Gonzalez, is part of a larger collection of pieces inspired by the screaming hand artwork developed by Jim Phillips in Santa Cruz in the 1980s. The screaming hand is iconic around Santa Cruz, and the Screaming Hand 30th anniversary exhibit at the MAH has been wildly popular since it opened in August. By putting one of the pieces from the exhibit online, the MAH has been able to extend its reach to those in the community (and beyond!) who might not be able to visit the museum in person.

Each week Abby comes in for a few hours to photograph objects. Sometimes Marla has already identified an artifact or art piece that she thinks would make a great model, and other times Abby and Marla get to explore the museum’s collections room until they find something that intrigues them. Every now and then one of the objects that we find is so unique or interesting  that it ends up being put into one of the rotating display cases on the first floor.

For the most part, object photography takes place in either the third floor foyer or the museum’s archives room. In both cases lighting and/or shooting space can be a challenge. Without a dedicated room for photography, you make the best of what you have. In some instances artworks cannot be moved and so shooting has to take place wherever the object is. For example, as part of the museum’s ongoing Abbott Square revitalization project, community members were invited to leave their mark on part of the building on the eve of its demolition. We were able to capture a portion of one of the rooms before the wrecking crew came in to take it to pieces.

In another case, we decided to capture a few of the sculptures on the museum’s outdoor terrace. It was nice and cloudy that day, but eventually the heavens broke open and it started to rain.


All models are captured with a DSLR (originally a Canon EOS 30D and now a Pentax K-3II) on a tripod and processed with Agisoft PhotoScan.

At the MAH, our mission is to ignite shared experiences and unexpected connections. We accomplish this mission when we bring people together around art and history through dynamic exhibitions, events, partnerships, and programs. When we are successful, our work helps build a stronger, more connected community. That’s the impact that we seek. We plan to continue digitizing artifacts and art from the MAH and hope to encourage more community members to engage with the museum both on Sketchfab and in person.


Thanks again for sharing, Abby and Marla!

For more information on the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History, please visit their website, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook!

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About the author

Raphaël Marchou

Cultural Heritage Enthusiast !


  • David says:

    Lovely post! I especially liked the video documenting the capture process. I am going to timelapse the next large model I create for sure having seen this.

  • Mark Mesiti-Miller says:

    Unbelievably cool and wonderful … I love being able to look at these objects from every angle, including from below and inside.
    The only thing missing is a scale, so one could understand how big these pieces are.

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