Ronald M. and Dianne J. Bernier slide digitization project
Professor Bernier (1943-2012) was a historian of Asian art who specialized in Himalyan architecture and taught for the Art and Art History Department at the University of Colorado Boulder for 35 years. During that time he traveled all over Asia and beyond, frequently with his life partner, Dianne Bernier. The Berniers documented these journeys through many beautiful photographs. Dr. Bernier’s slide collection, which was gifted to the Art and Art History Visual Resources Center (VRC) in 2012, comprises 30,000 images, with a particular strength in the cultures of Nepal, Tibet, India, and Southeast Asia.
Between 2012 and 2014, the VRC invested over 600 staff hours in sorting and organizing the collection. Once we had organized the slides into distinct geographical categories, we began seeking funds to digitize and catalog them. The size of the collection requires that we approach this process in stages. In the fall of 2014 we applied for two grants to process two subsets of 500 slides each. One proposal was for a project grant through the Visual Resources Association Foundation (VRAF), and the other was for an At-Risk Collection grant through Artstor. We are pleased to report that both proposals were successful. We were notified in December that we received the VRAF project grant. That work has been proceeding under the leadership of VRC Graduate Assistant Krystle Kelley as principal investigator. It is covering 65 hours of scholarly research and metadata consultation from Dr. Ariana Maki, an Asian art specialist, in support of cataloging the first subset of 500 slides from the collection. The digitization of these slides, funded by the VRC, is complete, and we are now post-processing the images. The creation of descriptive metadata for cataloging is also well underway. The At-Risk Collection project funded by the Artstor grant, which we learned we received in March, will begin to proceed within the next few weeks under the guidance of VRC Director Elaine Paul. That grant will fund the scanning of 500 slides, as well as 90 hours of scholarly research consultation from Dr. Maki. Lia Pileggi, the VRC’s Digital Imaging and Technology Coordinator, is providing expertise on the imaging portion of the projects, while Elaine Paul and Krystle Kelley are overseeing the cataloging and collection management tasks.
The 1,000 images selected for these initial projects highlight the extraordinary depth and breadth of the Bernier archive. To make them broadly available for study and research, the VRC will publish these materials as a stand-alone collection in LUNA, our collection management software. The archive includes images from esoteric Buddhist initiation rituals in Nepal in the 1970s and 80s, key historical sites from Myanmar (Burma) taken when travel to the country was particularly rare, and sites from throughout Central Asia–including Iran, a notoriously difficult country to access now–over a span of decades. In short, the Bernier archive documents a number of world religions, lesser-studied indigenous traditions, and the material cultures of dozens of countries, often recorded in multiple visits over time.
This archive will expose otherwise inaccessible materials to scholars, students, and aficionados with limited funds for travel. As sites can change drastically over time–or as in the case of the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan (included in this collection), disappear altogether–scholars would have direct access to high-resolution files that would aid them in tracing the trajectory and appearance of a site over time. Museum professionals investigating a particular sculpture, painting, or ritual item from the cultures represented could consult the Bernier material as a point of reference when investigating provenance. Further, many of the Berniers’ images come from sites that have been designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, providing crucial comparative data.
The Ronald M. and Dianne Bernier Archive, initially comprising these first 1,000 images, will be published before the end of 2015.