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Milner Library digitizing ISU presidential portraits

Presidential portraits

Illinois State presidential portraits hang near their paper collections at Archives after their summer 2014 move.

Some of you might remember the big presidential portrait move Archives staff did around this time last year. With the help of the staff of the Bone Student Center, we successfully moved the historic Illinois State presidential portraits from the Circus Room to our secure storage space. Last week, we moved them (temporarily) once again to Milner Library where they’ll soon be getting a digital makeover!

The move of the presidential portraits in the summer of 2014 wasn’t easy. Extensive planning was done to find a way to minimize the risk of damage to the portraits as we moved them from one location to another. A few of the portrait frames, over 100 years old, are hand-carved plaster and very fragile. One careless bump and irreversible damage could be done. On the day of the move, the portraits were wrapped in layers of protective cloth and bubble wrap and moved carefully by cart to a waiting van. Once the portraits arrived at Archives, they were rehung and secured on our security fence. This was an exhausting, multiday process but successful; all of the portraits made it to Archives without any damage.

So when we decided this year to have the portraits scanned at Milner Library, we were a bit nervous. We were going to have to plan another move, this time from Archives and up to the fourth floor of Milner Library where the Digital Center is housed. The center has a state-of-the-art scanner that can create extremely high resolution scans of the portraits and their delicate frames. Once the portraits are scanned, staff at the Digital Center will “clean up” the images, using software to digitally erase the many scrapes, scratches, and stains the portraits already have. While we currently do not have the funds to have the portraits physically cleaned, with this process we can have them virtually cleaned. For the first time, we will have clear, high-resolution images of the presidential portraits.

This will be a long process but one that we hope we can start sharing later this year. Watch the blog and our social media pages for sneak peaks of the digital presidential portraits!

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