Channeling O’Keeffe: Merging Art and Technology
Artist. Trailblazer. Iconoclast. Georgia O’Keeffe changed the world of art by pushing boundaries with her bold and distinctive style.
Artist. Trailblazer. Iconoclast. Georgia O’Keeffe changed the world of art by pushing boundaries with her bold and distinctive style. As one of the most significant artists of the 20th century, her unique vision defined American modernism. The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum houses the largest repository of the artist’s work. They needed a new website to showcase their vast collection and support their evolving needs, and as admirers of O’Keeffe, our team was excited for an opportunity to honor her life and art.
Like so many of its peers, the Museum was rethinking how to effectively engage audiences as a modern cultural institution. Still navigating the challenges brought on by the pandemic, they adapted from only focusing on their visitor experience to experimenting with new “hybrid experiences” that serve both in-person and online visitors. For example, pre-pandemic, their popular “Breakfast with O’Keeffe” lecture series was limited to serving on-site visitors but now it reaches a global audience as a popular webcast. Threespot was asked to push the hybrid concept further and create a world-class destination for fans, researchers, academics, and educators to explore the legendary artist’s life and legacy.
With this goal in mind, we set ourselves a high bar for creative design and incorporating the latest technology. We took great care to be good stewards of O’Keeffe’s artwork while aiming to build an immersive experience that allowed visitors to soak in the details of the art beyond what even an in-person visit could accommodate. To achieve this, our team first leveraged the latest open standard for presenting digital objects, IIIF, to bring high-resolution artwork from an external collections database to the website. Then we integrated a deep zoom viewer that brings you close enough to each piece to see the dimensionality of O’Keeffe’s brushstrokes.
To protect the integrity of her art, we strictly committed to never cropping or changing aspect ratios of O’Keeffe’s paintings. Instead, we found creative and technical solutions to assemble images in adaptable grids that preserved and accounted for the various dimensions and orientations of art in the collection.
The overall aesthetic we designed echoed O’Keeffe’s modernist sensibility with minimal ornamentation and a neutral color palette that allowed her artwork to come to the fore. We also gave content authors the ability to select colors for backgrounds and title cards to complement the artwork to ensure the page design was cohesive and harmonious as the featured art changed over time. And throughout the site, we incorporated subtle animations to add moments of delight.
A lot of our effort was invested in a reimagined online store to support the museum’s business goals. We integrated many third-party services handling a range of transactions including membership, donations, online ticketing, and shopping. Large features highlight the latest items in the shop and an improved browsing experience with intuitive filters enable visitors to find items based on their interest. Backend magic syncs the store with the Museum’s inventory management system to confirm whether an item is in stock. And as with all our projects, we were mindful to keep our code accessible, responsive, and performant.
At the outset of this project, we knew that we should do more than just showcase O’Keeffe’s acclaimed art. We wanted to reveal the humanity behind the icon and capture O’Keeffe’s elegance, curiosity, courage, and struggle, so we created storytelling opportunities, including visual quotes for O’Keeffe to speak in her own words. The site also features a new “Insights” blog with recordings of past talks, stories about the art and artist, and the work of the curators, archivists, and educators at the Museum.
It’s been an honor to partner with the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum to build their hybrid digital experience, which officially launched in June. We’re grateful to work on a dream project like this and so inspired by O’Keeffe’s art and independent spirit and tried to reflect it in our work. Our lead developer even coded part of the site in New Mexico, channeling O’Keeffe and seeing the beauty of the artist’s adopted home firsthand.
Through this project, I was inspired by O’Keeffe’s lifelong pursuit to redefine herself and craft a clear vision. This was central to who she was. So let’s all find our unique voice. Seek joy and humor in unexpected places, and have the courage to try new things that lead us to be better versions of ourselves.
“Someone else’s vision will never be as good as your own vision of [yourself].
Live and die with it ’cause in the end it’s all you have. Lose it and you lose yourself and everything else. I should have listened to myself.”
— Georgia O’Keeffe