Measured Perfection: Hiram Powers’ Greek Slave

July 2, 2015 — July 8, 2017

Smithsonian American Art Museum (8th and G Streets, NW)
Media - 1968.155.1 - SAAM-1968.155.1_3 - 80074

This one-gallery exhibition reveals the inner workings of the studio of Hiram Powers (1805–1873), who was among the most innovative sculptors of the nineteenth century, eagerly adapting long-standing sculpture traditions to new technologies of his age.

The display draws from an extensive collection acquired by the Smithsonian American Art Museum directly from Powers’ studio in Florence, Italy, in 1968. Finished and unfinished artworks and a selection of tools reveal Powers’ creative process and ingenious experiments, including the highly controversial practice of body casting. A key object in the exhibition is the life-size plaster of Powers’ Greek Slave, the most highly acclaimed sculpture of the nineteenth century, so famous that Powers applied for a U.S. patent on the composition.

This example of the Greek Slave is studded with the metal points in preparation for replication by the pointing machine — a clever, patented mechanical device used to translate plaster models into multiple marble replicas. A daguerreotype of the Greek Slave and Parian porcelain reduction illustrate the reproduction of this popular sculpture in other formats during Powers’ lifetime. X‑radiographs of this unique plaster, recently made at the museum’s Lunder Conservation Center, encourage audiences to consider ways in which scholarship relies on current technology to interpret the past. Interactive didactic displays and activities — including a special activity for children — invite viewers to appreciate Powers’ innovative contributions to nineteenth-century sculpture, while videos of 3‑D scanning and a pointing machine in use demonstrate how sculpture tools and techniques have changed since Powers’ time.

The exhibition is organized by Karen Lemmey, sculpture curator.

Video

Date
  • Using a pointing pevice on a plaster model, the Smithsonian American Art Museum staff demonstrate how to create a marble replica of the "Greek Slave" by Hiram Powers.

    Learn more about Hiram Powers’ Sculpture, the ​Greek Slave

    VINCE ROSSI: I’m Vince Rossi. I work for the Digitization Program Office. I’m here today with my colleague Jonathan Blundell, and we’re 3D scanning the sculpture that you see behind me today. This is a Hiram Powers sculpture, and we’re using three different types of scanning technologies. One is a laser scanner, where we’re painting light on top of an object – on top of this object – and we’re capturing millions and millions of data points that describe the surface. That captures very high-resolution detail, but it doesn’t capture color information. We’re also using a structured light scanner, which is another handheld tool, which is slightly lower-resolution, but it also captures some color information. And then finally, we see Jon getting set up. He’s shooting photogrammetry. That’s where we use a DSLR camera, and we take photographs in such a way that we can create a 3D reconstructed model using photogrammetry algorithms.

    So those three data sets we’re capturing have different strengths and weaknesses, and what we’re going to do is take those three different data sets and basically combine them to create one high-resolution geometric model, with accurate color information, that we will then deliver online using our 3D viewer at 3d.si.edu.
    Date
  • Vince Rossi and Jon Blundell from the Smithsonian's Digitization Program Office apply various 3D capture methods on the pointed plaster model for the Greek Slave by Hiram Powers, the most famous sculpture of the 19th century, in the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

    VINCE ROSSI: I’m Vince Rossi. I work for the Digitization Program Office. I’m here today with my colleague Jonathan Blundell, and we’re 3D scanning the sculpture that you see behind me today. This is a Hiram Powers sculpture, and we’re using three different types of scanning technologies. One is a laser scanner, where we’re painting light on top of an object – on top of this object – and we’re capturing millions and millions of data points that describe the surface. That captures very high-resolution detail, but it doesn’t capture color information. We’re also using a structured light scanner, which is another handheld tool, which is slightly lower-resolution, but it also captures some color information. And then finally, we see Jon getting set up. He’s shooting photogrammetry. That’s where we use a DSLR camera, and we take photographs in such a way that we can create a 3D reconstructed model using photogrammetry algorithms.

    So those three data sets we’re capturing have different strengths and weaknesses, and what we’re going to do is take those three different data sets and basically combine them to create one high-resolution geometric model, with accurate color information, that we will then deliver online using our 3D viewer at 3d.si.edu.
    Date
  • Explore the 3D Model

    Credits

    Measured Perfection: Hiram Powers’ Greek Slave is organized by the Smithsonian American Art Museum in collaboration with the United States Patent and Trademark Office.