Lead Forensics

3D Scanning Helps Reimagine 19th Century Sculpture for 2020s

Jun 23, 2023 | 3D Scanning, Museums & Collections, Sculpture

3D scanning has recently made possible a remarkable ‘collaboration’ between two sculptors separated by 160 years.

The project enabled artist Hugh Hayden to create a new, 3D-printed, version of John Quincy Adams Ward’s groundbreaking sculpture The Freedman using a digital copy of Ward’s 1863 original as a model. Scan data provided Hayden with a 3D computer-aided design (CAD) file of the sculpture’s highly detailed surface geometry, which he then digitally reworked to create a Freedman for the 21st century.

Hayden’s work is part of the Amon Carter Museum of American Art’s (Fort Worth, TX) exhibition Emancipation: The Unfinished Project of Liberation exploring the ideas of freedom and emancipation both then and now through the work of seven Black contemporary artists alongside historical artwork.

Ward’s sculpture was stylistically trailblazing in the 19th century. Departing from the conventional depictions of African-Americans as powerless, it instead presents a classically posed figure not in a state of subjugation but on the cusp of freedom, his chains of enslavement broken.

“In preparation for our current Emancipation: The Unfinished Project of Liberation exhibition, we wanted The Freedman to inspire living artists to create their own work,” explains Maggie Adler, Curator of Paintings, Sculpture, and Works on Paper at the Carter.

“To that end, we invited seven emerging and mid-career Black artists to react to and engage with some of the issues embedded in Ward’s work.” The artists were encouraged to explore Ward’s sculpture through the lenses of their own lives and produce a corresponding artistic statement.

Each artist took the Carter’s prompt in a different direction, with contributions including sculpture, photography, and paper and textile fabrications–but Hayden offered a unique approach: he wanted to make a 3D-printed mould of The Freedman for the modern era, revising Ward’s work to show the original figure in a more contemporary setting.

This presented a tremendous challenge. Traditional casting methods–such as those Ward himself used to copy his sculptures–were ruled out, as creating the mould could compromise the appearance of the museum’s bronze cast and also run the risk of accidentally damaging it in the process. And no form of manual measurement could accurately capture the complex surface geometry and expressive character of the statue.

The museum contacted a leading company in 3D scanning and engineering services with an extensive history of helping sculptors digitize their creations for preservation and duplication.

With the supervision of Carter curators and conservators, the sculpture was scanned in less than half a day using a powerful portable laser-scanning device capable of accurately capturing 3D geometry from objects in precise detail.

Hayden’s reimagined sculpture places the original Freedman figure in changed circumstances. He altered the scans in ways that are meaningful to him to make the sculpture his own and 3D-printed the results in white plastic.

Original Metrology News Story. 


About The Blog

The PES Scanning blog provides information and news on the scanning and engineering services we offer. The blog also includes views from our team and information about projects we’ve been working on.