Thursday, 1 May 2014

Use of historical imagery in Western Australia's Freycinet Collection

I recently had the honour of working on a virtual exhibition entitled Western Australia's Freycinet Collection. The project was part of my sporadic but ongoing work with the State Library of Western Australia Foundation.

The physical Freycinet Collection consists of 18 watercolours, drawings and etchings made during two nineteenth century French explorations which visited the WA coast. They were purchased at an auction in London in 2002 for the State Library of Western Australia. Also in the library's collection is the journal of Paul Gaimard, who was a surgeon on the latter of the two voyages.

The collection and journal were used to influence the design and appearance of the virtual exhibition - from the website's backdrop to the word 'Freycinet' in the header, the 'F' in the favicon and even the colour of the text and its backing.

As part of the research for the project Elizabeth Gralton and Paul Gibbard, of the University of Western Australia, had transcribed and translated the portion of the journal covering Shark Bay on the WA coast. This made it a particularly easy task to find the mentions of the surname 'Freycinet' across the Shark Bay pages. One mention was messily written, another marked with ink but a third was articulately and aesthetically composed.

It was envisaged to use the handwritten 'Freycinet' in the virtual exhibit's header. However, its size meant it would become horribly pixelated if increased to the desired size. The resolve was to digitally redraw the word but based solely on the 196 year old handwriting in the journal. Once this was completed its colour was matched to the colour of the journal's ink.

While looking over the Gaimard Journal it was noticed that there were a number of blank pages. With all of their rustic charm, one of these was selected to become the external background of the virtual exhibition.

Two of the most eye-catching images of the Freycinet Collection are a drawing and etching of the French camp on the beach at Shark Bay in 1818. The etching, shown below, was chosen to constitute the background of the site's header as its dimensions suited perfectly and it could be used in its entirety.

The colour of the sky in the etching was then matched to be the background colour of the body of the exhibit. Like the handwritten Freycinet, the text within the body was also set to be the same dark brown colour as the ink in Gaimard's journal. The favicon (the small icon that appears in the top of internet browsers) was created using part of the sky in the etching and just the 'F' from the redrawn Freycinet.

With the addition of a double line, which also came from the Gaimard Journal, the picture was complete! Design not only to suit the collection but drawn from within it...

The virtual exhibit was launched at a function in the theatre of the State Library of Western Australia on 1 May 2014 and can now be found at

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