Spanish Colonial Armor Gets a 21st-Century `Wow’

helmet2While preparing an upcoming exhibit, Virgin of Guadalupe: Empress of the Americas, the Houston Museum of Natural Science asked to borrow our morion helmet (left) and a breastplate. The 16th-century pieces were found in a cave in Grants’ El Malpais and given to the museum by then-Rep. Nick Salazar.

Why the interest? Both bear delicate etchings that include Christ on the cross and Our Lady with the Christ Child. But Houston, we had a problem: Both are on long-term display in Santa Fe Found: Fragments of Time, and we didn’t want our exhibition to suffer.

FilmingSmartGeoMetrics to the rescue. For two days, Drake Chapman of the Houston-based firm, worked in the museum’s conservation lab, taking high-definition 3D laser scans of both objects.

“We can create a 3D model from that or maybe a holographic printing of it—the museum hasn’t decided yet,” Chapman said. “The 3D model is really expensive. They charge by the cubic inch, so these pieces could be a couple thousand dollars. But it’s come a long way. In another year or so, you can do that a lot cheaper.”

Josef Díaz, the History Museum’s curator of Spanish colonial and Mexican collections, was inspired by watching the work.

“With this technology,” he said, “we could do all kinds of objects we can’t borrow.”