Reflections on the Nasher’s project Revelation: The Art of James Magee

It is wonderful when you get the opportunity to see your colleagues grow and develop new skills.  I had one of those moments this week when I received an excited email from Stephen Ross at the Nasher Sculpture Center that read,

“I am happy to say that the recording and editing of James Magee went really well.  I have also taken this opportunity to push myself toward web design.  Word Press just would not work the way I wanted it to, so I built the web component from scratch (with BIG help from SiteSpinner).  It will likely change, and I need to build content for the main page, but here you go.

I can’t fully express how excited I am about getting a site done.  My ability to even think about doing something like this (even this simple) is entirely the result of this wonderful Marcus/New Media Consortium journey we have been on for the past several years.  I am truly thankful to all of you for the gentle push.”

The Nasher received a minigrant to support these recordings and thus, he is reporting to me on their progress.

Please go to visit the website at There you will find a clean and well functioning website that focuses on James Magee’s extraordinary relief sculptures, works that incorporate an array of materials-bits of iron, glass, concrete, wax, enamel, lead, wire mesh, linoleum, grease, brake fluid, shellac, car parts, ceramic tiles, roof panels, even hibiscus, honey, and paprika.  The artist extends the experience of the works in their elaborate “titles,” prose poems that Magee intones only for the rare, fortunate visitor, recordings of which are available in the exhibition and on this website.

I was blown away by the website that Stephen had created.  I called him to ask him how he figured it all out.  He confidently replied how he just had to try things and see what worked.  He also revealed that the site only took him a weekend to create.  Wow!

Specifically, Stephen used a variety of open source tools to create the site.  First SiteSpinner is a wisiwig program allows users to customize a website through drag and drop tools for object positioning and sizing; cut and paste functionality for image editing, and simple media imports.  Stephen was able to create the Magee site using the free trial version, but the program costs just $50 for the full version.  Next, he found an open source audio player called the niftyPlayer to play the mp3 recordings of the artists reading the poems.  Finally, he used MojoZoom to create the zoom tool.

In our conversation, Stephen added that the key to his success was keeping his idea focused. He had storyboarded his ideas and sketched out a draft, both skills he had learned form the Digital Education Project workshops over the past few years.  Rather than fretting over the problems he faced, he systematically fixed them one at a time.

What I learn from this experience is not only that Stephen is a genius, but also that so often digital media projects are often more about confidence and experimentation than technical skill and code.  Stephen built upon his past experiences with web design and ran with the new project.  He laid out a clear and simple objective, to pair the sculptures inspired by poems with the artist reading their corresponding prose, and completed that aim through trial and error.  He had the confidence to try something new and to take each challenge as it comes.

Although I had little to do with Stephen’s success, I feel proud of his accomplishments.  I feel akin to the experience of figuring out a new program or hack that might help one of the MIDEA members.  By sharing our experiences with these projects we can not only create interesting content for the web, but also serve each other through the sharing of our experiences.  I encourage you to share yours too.

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