Creating Exhibits in Omeka to Support Academic Research

By Jae Turner

DuetMary E. Hutchinson, “Duet,” c. 1937. From the Mary E. Hutchinson and Dorothy King papers, MARBL.

As a Woodruff Library Fellow, I worked with the Digital Scholarship Commons (DiSC) to develop a project based on my dissertation research using the Web-based content management system called Omeka. My research focuses on artist Mary E. Hutchinson (1906-1970) and her work. I developed my catalog of Hutchinson’s known works through a newly launched Omeka.net hosting option. I chose the free plan which offers a limited number of templates ready for use. By going this route, I invested very little time in designing my site.

Omeka facilitates a versatile digital catalog of Hutchinson’s artwork that is searchable and resists fixed categories and chronologies encouraged by traditional publications. Tags are Omeka’s basic tool for sorting and sifting through items as a user. Coming up with useful tags took some trial and error on my part. A work can be easily assigned to multiple categories. As a women’s studies scholar, rather than a conventional art historian, I found this a powerful way to challenge entrenched narratives. For example, “Duet” may be considered in context with other paintings, other works produced in 1937, the Midtown Galleries, the National Association of Women Artists, or the Society of Independent Artists.

However, before launching my Omeka site to the public, I still have some issues to work out. The reason Omeka is easy to use is that it works through templates that offer great design choices, but limit user control. Each of the available templates crops images to one degree or another. This is problematic for works of art, and I am still wrestling with finding the compromise that works best for my site. However, with a little tweaking meh.omeka.net will allow Hutchinson’s paintings and drawings to be exhibited for the first time in sixty years.

Images of Hutchinson’s work have been preserved as part of the Mary E. Hutchinson and Dorothy King papers, 1900-1988, located in the Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Books Library (MARBL).