Inside the Collection

3D scanning in the 1930s

Photograph of Bust of Ernest Frederick Pollock
Powerhouse Museum collection, object 2004/68/1. Gift of Frederick Pollock, 2004.

If you visit the Powerhouse Museum between 10 am and 1 pm on 9 March for our 25th birthday celebrations, you will be able to see the accurate detail captured in this bronze bust of Sydney pharmacist Ernest Pollock. Created by the process of Sculptography in Osaka in 1934, it demonstrates that 3D scanning is not a recent achievement. I will be one of several curators in the museum over the weekend, each with a group of objects to discuss with visitors. The theme of my selection is ‘making things’.

Pollock sat for his bust for just a few seconds, on a revolving chair, while a fine vertical strip of light and a shutterless high-speed camera were directed at his head to capture hundreds of thin profiles. The resulting negative was enlarged (in his case to create a bust scaled 2:5) and cut into strips; the strips were glued to metal and strung together, and molten wax was used to fill in the shape of the bust; after some retouching, this was used to make a clay or gypsum mould; and the bronze bust was cast in this mould. I imagine Pollock was chuffed when the bust arrived in Sydney, a very special memento of his visit to Japan. A small booklet that illustrates and explains the process was donated to the Museum along with the bust.

Other objects in my selection include a glassblower’s mould, a pair of shoe lasts, and a 5th century mould for mass-producing oil lamps. To bring the story up to date, I will bring along some small items made by the Museum’s 3D printer.

Photograph of bronze Dagger, Babylon, 9th Century B.C.
PowerhouseMuseum Collection, object H9865.

The oldest object in the group is a bronze dagger thought to have been made in Babylon in the 9th century BC. Bronze, the metal used to make Pollock’s bust, was the first useful alloy. Driven by a desire to make better tools, people learned how to extract metals from ores, experimented to find an appropriate ratio of copper to tin, and conducted trade across considerable distances to bring copper and tin ores together. The maker of this beautiful and powerful dagger had to pour the molten bronze into a mould and finish it by hammering, annealing and grinding. A similar set of skills and ideas is embedded in every made object, and I invite you to come along on Saturday and discuss them as you view my small group of interesting things. I hope a visitor will explain the purpose of one mysterious object, a cylindrical wooden former with five spirals machined into it.

Post by curator Debbie Rudder.

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