The growth of image collections in U.S. educational and cultural institutions has evolved since the early days of photography and the image collection at the Cleveland Museum of Art is no exception. Images have played a critical role in the educational and research functions of the museum. In its earliest days, lantern slides played a significant role in the history of the museum. As early as July 1914 Cleveland Museum of Art director, Frederic Whiting, used lantern slides to illustrate his talks on American Museums in order to publicize the new Cleveland Museum. "The Director is prepared to talk before clubs and other organizations on the need of an Art Museum in the Community, either with or without stereopticon slides."1 It was the first time images could be seen by an entire audience.
In 1920 the Cleveland Museum of Art's Lantern Slide Department officially opened with 7,500 photographs, 1,500 lantern slides and around 300 etchings and engravings all donated by various individuals. The goal of the Lantern Slide Department was to provide the museum staff and the Cleveland community with an educational resource for classroom support and lectures for various clubs and organizations. The lantern slides were lent at no cost for no longer than three days.
For the 20th Anniversary Exhibition which opened June 26, 1936, the lantern slides were used for two lecture series in the Museum Auditorium given by Mr. Dudley Crafts Watson. The first ran August 14–16, 1936 and the second ran October 2–4, 1936. Mr. Watson used a portion of the library's Lantern Slide Collection and inadvertently returned to Chicago with four of the slides. He returned the lantern slides with a letter praising the staff of the Lantern Slide Department.
Because lantern slides were considered a necessary educational and research tool, the museum expanded its collection in order to support the mission of continued art education and awareness. In a report to the Board of Trustees, museum Director, William M. Milliken, presented statistics of the Lantern Slide Department, showing that as of June 1, 1939, approximately 2,134,640 slides had been loaned since the Slide Department opened in 1920, a remarkable record of service to the community.2
The early collection's strength "…is especially to be looked to for Oriental scenes. It is weak in paintings. We need especially slides, as we do photographs, showing works of painters of whom we have examples in the galleries"3
The Lantern Slide Department evolved further with the development of 35mm slides. This advancement in film made images more convenient and desirable. In 1956, in a new and larger facility, the Lantern Slide Department began to acquire 35mm slides. Due to their smaller size there was more space to grow the collection. At the same time, the usage of lantern slides slowly declined.
When the Lantern Slide Department moved in 1984, it was renamed the Slide Library and focused exclusively on the 35mm slide collection. Slides were circulated to the museum staff, faculty and students in the CMA/CWRU Joint Program in Art History and Museum Studies, researchers, area educators and any member of the public giving a presentation for educational purposes.
By the time digital technology began to impact the Slide Library in the late 1990's the collection included approximately 500,000 slides representing a comprehensive treatment of the world's artistic and architectural history. In 2000 a project to digitize the 35mm slides began. The current building project dictated that the entire slide collection be digitized in order to provide space for other library needs and services and in 2005 the museum was awarded a U.S. Department of Education grant to fund the digitization of 86,000 slides by an outside vendor. Remaining slides were digitized on-site.
When the Ingalls Library moved to its current location in September 2006, the Slide Library once again changed its name to the Image Services Department.
Currently, the Image Services Department serves all museum staff and CWRU faculty and students in the CMA/CWRU Joint Program in Art History and Museum Studies. The Image Services staff also fills image requests compliant with copyright restrictions for outside researchers.
The Image Services department provides the following services:
- Scanning 35mm slides
- Digitally photographing or scanning images from books
- Scanning transparencies, negatives, and film prints
- Converting, resizing, and cleaning digital images
- Transfer requested images to CD
- Creating PowerPoint presentations of images requested
The library's ability to provide needed images for education and research has continued despite changes in name and changes in technology.
1. The Bulletin of The Cleveland Museum of Art, July 1914.
2. Minutes of the meeting of the Board of Trustees, June 30, 1939.
3. The Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art, September-October, 1917, p. 124