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Ackland Art Museum launches new website for Peck Collection

Fig­ures Danc­ing Around a Fire, c. 1635 

A lead­ing Dutch painter active in Rome from 1625 to 1637, Pieter van Laer was cel­e­brat­ed for his depic­tions of con­tem­po­rary street life. In this spir­it­ed car­ni­val scene, masked and cos­tumed fig­ures hold torch­es and dance around a wick­er bas­ket fire at night, the flick­er­ing light of the flames reflect­ing off their bod­ies. 

Photo courtesy of

While the Ackland Art Museum has been on UNC's campus since 1958, visitors no longer have to be in Chapel Hill to enjoy some of the museum's art.

The Ackland launched a website in September 2022 that hosts a growing body of scholarly work, specifically dedicated to the 134 drawings that make up the Peck Collection. 

The project coincides with the “Drawn to Life: Master Drawings from the Age of Rembrandt in the Peck Collection at the Ackland Art Museum" exhibit, which featured over 70 drawings from the Peck Collection.

The digital project has been in the works since 2018, shortly after the Ackland received its largest gift to date: a collection of Dutch and Flemish drawings from Sheldon and Leena Peck. Along with the art, funds were allocated for the stewardship of the collection, new acquisitions and a new curatorial position.

One drawing from the collection is always on display at the museum, but because the works are incredibly sensitive to light, they must be rotated every few weeks. This new website provides a place where scholars around the world can have access to all of the drawings in one place, Dana Cowen said. Cowen is the inaugural Sheldon Peck curator for European and American art before 1950.

“It's a big deal for the museum to have received this collection,” she said. “It really puts us up there with other museums who have collections like this of Dutch and Flemish drawings from the 17th and 18th centuries, and it shows that we are really engaging with technology in order to make these types of drawings accessible to all people who are interested in this material.”

Cowen, who spearheaded the creation of the website, worked in collaboration with Cogapp, a specialist digital agency that works out of Bristol, England. The agency has been in the field for about 30 years and has partnered with other museums around the country. 

Carolyn Allmendinger, director of education and interpretation at the Ackland, said a website has always been a part of the Pecks’ vision for the collection.

“They wanted to give their collection of drawings to the Ackland because they knew that it would be accessible to students and to scholars and to the public,” she said.

The Pecks wanted the website to include features that allowed viewers to see how the entirety of each drawing was created, including a zoom feature and information on the paper material the works were drawn on, Allmendinger said.  

“Especially during the time of the early days of the pandemic, when everybody had to stay at home and things like that, I think it gave me a renewed kind of appreciation for the value of really good online resources,” Allmendinger said. 

Not only does the new website allow for accessibility to the Peck Collection for individuals around the world, it also provides an upgraded art viewing experience. Ariel Fielding, director of communications at the Ackland, said viewers are able to see the fibers of the paper on the website — a quality that may be invisible to the naked eye. 

“People can experience these works of art, but in a way that is an enhancement of what the in-person experience would be,” she said. 


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