One Hundred Museums Transformed Their Collections Into Free Coloring Pages

This year’s #ColorOurCollections campaign features everything from medical drawings to zany 1920s advertisements for butter

Hartmann Schedel, The Nuremberg Chronicle (Anton Koberger, for Sebald Schreyer and Sebastian Kamermaister), 1493 Trinity Hall, Cambridge
Drawing of a motorcycle, 1919 Harley-Davidson Museum
Selection from The World of MGH, June 1956 Massachusetts General Hospital Archives & Special Collections

Classics are called classics for a reason. For the most part, these cherished bits of historical art are preserved unaltered: Museums, libraries and academic institutions don’t typically take kindly to patrons scribbling on their collections.

But with the annual #ColorOurCollections social media campaign, the world’s art enthusiasts can come pretty darn close. This week, the popular initiative—first launched by the New York Academy of Medicine Library (NYAM) in 2016—invites viewers to download, color and reimagine thousands of black-and-white artworks sourced from dozens of cultural mainstays around the world. Currently at 101 strong, the list may continue to grow and is already encroaching on last year’s roster of 114 participants.

Among the institutions advertising their contributions are representatives from the academic world, including Harvard University’s Countway Library and the University of Waterloo, as well as museums like Les Champs Libres and the Huntington Library. The only commonality shared by the thousands of prints and drawings available on the NYAM website is their black-and-white appearance: The pages otherwise span just about every taste and illustrative predilection a coloring connoisseur could conjure.

Whoa Emma! Beadle's Half-Dime Singer's Library, no. 1 (1878) Northern Illinois University
People Exercising. Jacques Delpech, De L'orthomorphie, par rapport a l'espèce humaine (Paris: Printed by Chez Gabon, 1828), plate LXVI New York Academy of Medicine Library

Those hoping to personalize a vintage motorcycle can hop on over to pages from Harley-Davidson Archives. Others craving canoe-heavy content can enjoy the prints offered by a Canadian museum that’s all about “paddled watercraft.” War buffs may get a kick out of images from the Pritzker Military Museum, while those hoping to learn more about some of history’s remarkable women can leaf through the pages provided by Loyola University Chicago’s Women and Leadership Archives.

Some of the most substantial showings arrive in the form of drawings with a medical bent, each offering the opportunity to color in or sketch over astoundingly detailed (if not always anatomically accurate) depictions of human bodies. Artists-to-be will find organs and skeletons galore in postings from the Medical Heritage Library and the collection’s sponsor, the New York Academy of Medicine. (Both institutions also feature a menagerie of unusual animals, some real, some very much not.) And Massachusetts General Hospital has offered up several humorous depictions of patient care.

Not to be overlooked, the collection’s cultural contingent runs the gamut from quirky to breathtaking. Noteworthy entries include a series of drawings from Northern Illinois University, each featuring artwork from 19th-century nickel and dime novels—so named for their affordable 5- and 10-cent price tags—that paved the way for modern comic books. Artists can dip their toes into other eras of history with a series of 1920s advertisements for soda, butter and shoes from the West Virginia and Regional History Center.

A butter ad featured in the West Virginia and Regional History Center's submission to Color Our Collections 2020 Fairmont West Virginian, May 1923
Johannes von Cuba, Gart der Gesuntheit: zu latein Hortus sanitatis, Strasbourg: Mathia Apiario, 1536 Boston Athenaeum
“Halekulani” (cropped) by Huc Mazelet Luquiens. Drypoint, 1945 Art in Public Places Collection of the Hawaii State Foundation on Culture and the Arts

The collection also presents an opportunity to digitally glimpse the history of cities, states and even entire countries from afar. Through a series of drawings featuring architecture, fashion, maps and more, the pages from the National Library of Chile highlight the South American nation’s rich flair, while illustrations from the Hawaii State Foundation on Culture and the Arts underscore the islands’ natural beauty.

“I’m looking forward to printing a few of these out!” one fan wrote on Twitter on Monday. “It’s ... a great way to get to know some of the collections held in libraries around the world.”

Though #ColorOurCollections’s official run ends on February 7, this year’s illustrations—as well as a large repository of past submissions—will remain available to download. Though a bit further back in the queue, the archives contain some noteworthy gems, not least among them two years’ worth of sketches from the Theodore Roosevelt Center featuring our former president against a variety of entertaining backdrops and a series of intricate illustrations from the Smithsonian Libraries. (For more Smithsonian coloring options, check out the illuminated books and manuscripts featured in Abecedarium: An Adult Coloring Book for Bibliophiles.)

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