March 26, 2007

Digitizing the past

CHS receives grant for Gust Akerlund Studio glass plate negatives

By Kristen Miller
Staff Writer

The Cokato Historical Society and Akerlund Studio applied for, and received, two grants for the digitization of fragile, glass plate negatives dating back to the early 1900s.

Currently, there are 14,000 glass plate negatives and the studio has prints of 10,000 of them.

The problem with the remainder of the negatives is the lack of equipment to make photo reprints of these glass plates, according to Mike Worcester, Cokato Museum director.

“Now, we are scanning the negatives that haven’t been printed, so we can make reproductions out of the negatives once they’ve become digital,” Worcester said.

Dave Johnson of Dassel has the job of handling and scanning the glass plate negatives.

Johnson previously worked at the museum both in Cokato and Hutchinson. With his years of experience in photography, Johnson had the equipment, software and expertise needed for the job.

The Cokato Historical Society applied for a grant and received $3,118 from the Minnesota Historical Society and $1,000 from Wright Hennepin Electric Trust to digitize the photos.

The majority of the money will be spent on time and some on materials. Johnson is unsure of the amount of time the project will take, but he is estimating three months.

“Gust Akerlund Studio has a really important historical collection, not only the pictures themselves but with equipment, studio, and the house in which Gust lived,” said Tim Glines, manager of outreach services in the historical preservation department at the Minnesota Historical Society.

“The museum is one of the best local museums in Minnesota and it really sets Cokato aside from other small cities,” Glines said.

Johnson uses a digital scanner to scan the photos. Some need extra care to get the proper exposure, he said. For example, a white dress may become overexposed with the light from the scanner. This causes the photo to lose detail in the overexposed area, for example, the details on the dress. The digitized prints will then be saved on DVDs.

The collection covers most of the first half of the 20th century. The majority of the photos are 5x7s and approximately 1,000 are 8x10s, according to Johnson. The plates were kept as a record and for reordering purposes, Johnson said.

According to Johnson, glass plates are rare today since many were recycled for their silver during World War II.

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