Cosmo Wenman wants to liberate sculptures from museums with 3D printing

“Cosmo has a compelling vision of how these technologies can liberate the world’s three-dimensional cultural heritage. The potential educational applications are limitless. Ambitions projects like this are the start of something new and exciting; please lend your support.”

- Louise Leakey, paleontologist, AfricanFossils.org


There’s a great article in The Atlantic Cities this weekend that is likely giving heartburn to museums around the world. Writer Emily Badger spoke with Cosmo Wenman, a man whose mission is to give everyone access to historic sculptures and artifacts previously viewed only in three dimensions in the museums showing them or with replicas purchased in the museum gift shops.

Telling anyone seeing him in action that he just wants lots of shots of a work of art, the wily Wenman goes into museums and “scans” art pieces by taking photos of an object from scores of positions and angles. These are later put together into a 3D model with an unspecified 3D stitching program, such as Autodesk’s 123D. From that, a replica can then be easily 3D printed.

In his own words:

“My name is Cosmo Wenman, and for the last year I’ve been 3D scanning artwork in museums and using those scans to 3D print life-size reproductions. I’ve been sharing my 3D printable files online so that anyone can 3D print their own copies too. You can see some of my work here: cosmowenman.com It’s been a labor of love for me. I’ve been doing it for myself, for other art lovers, and for students and educators—for anyone who’s dreamed of owning fine sculptural art, but hasn’t had the means until now.

That quote comes from a Kickstarter project page he has launched to help further his goal. Up until now, he has been working solo, wherever he could get access and not get thrown out for suspicious activity. But, he’s now managed to find one museum that shares his goal of freely disseminating art. The Skulpturhalle Basel museum in Switzerland has given him permission to scan any of the sculptures he likes and to share the models online with no restrictions

His Kickstarter project is seeking $35,00, in order fund the following:

I will 3D scan a selection of plaster casts of important, archetypal sculptures at the Skulpturhalle and publish the scans and 3D printable files into the public domain, copyright-free, so that anyone, anywhere, can download, alter, adapt, or 3D print them for themselves.

I’ll publish the 3D printable files online at Thingiverse.com, where they will be available for free, for any use, without restriction, for teachers, students, artists, art lovers—for everyone.

I will also exhibit at least one life-size bust, 3D scanned and 3D printed, from the Skulpturhalle, at the London, Paris, and New York 3D Printshows.

The mass adoption of 3D printing has begun a copyright and patent controversy about intellectual property being ripped off and given away for free. This is going to be a big mess of a legal issue. But, art created during most of the 20th century is protected under copyright for the life of the artist, plus the next 70 years, and Wenman is sticking to scanning these objects. No IP issues here.

I would think that the Skulpturhalle’s permissions is going to be rare among museums, as most will try to protect the access to their pieces, along with their revenue from admissions and gift shop sales. “No photography zones” will eventually become the entire museum. But try as anyone might, technology won’t be stopped. While Google Glass will likely be banned, miniaturized, hidden cameras will get through, and art will be freed.

There are only 12 days to go and he’s still under $7,000 raised. Hopefully the Atlantic article and other stories like this one will help him get to his goal in time.
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To get a taste of what he can do, here’s the Bronze Head of Hypnos, scanned, printed, and finished in bronze by Cosmo Wenman:

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