elms newport
The Elms (Photo provided by The Preservation Society of Newport County)

A first-of-its-kind exhibition at The Elms (1901) allows visitors to use their audio tour player’s screen to view “digital” objects superimposed within the room.  Augmented reality technology is finding its way into museums as a way to enhance and expand the visitor experience through objects that no longer exist, never even existed or are too fragile to display.

This augmented reality exhibition, Gilded Age 2.0, includes 10 tour stops created by students in RISD Assistant Professor Thomas Thwaites’  industrial design class, whose assignment was to use fine and decorative arts from the 19th century Gilded Age as inspiration to create contemporary objects for today’s “second Gilded Age.”

“This is a wonderful partnership and a grand experiment for the Preservation Society in how the latest technology could be used to help interpret our historic houses,” said Preservation Society of Newport County CEO & Executive Director Trudy Coxe. “We are already imagining many potential uses for this technology to help us create even more visually rich experiences for our visitors.  For instance, we might be able to display in its original setting a fragile textile or decorative object that could not otherwise be shown to the public.”

While taking the audio tour at The Elms, visitors who come across special targets located throughout the house can point their player at the target, which will cause the virtual object to appear on the player’s screen.  Thus, they may see a candlestick appear on the dining room table; a cat tree for humans in the French salon;  in the kitchen, packages of Chinese food are augmented by images of farmers, a chicken and a pig; and in the breakfast room, a puzzle cube combines French, Chinese and American patterns. Each stop includes an artist statement by the student offering additional insight into their artworks.

The exhibition will be on display at The Elms through June 22, 2018.