Story | Scan The World

Author, Artist...Goddess! The Insider Story of Louise Krasniewicz

16 August, 2019

back to stories.

Louise Krasniewicz is an anthropologist, author and artist. She has understood the potential of 3D printing since its early days and has since used it as an educational tool and also a helping hand with her passion for miniatures and their role in culture. As she recently curated an exhibition of 3D printed goddesses from Scan the World,, we got in touch to discuss how it all began.

Louise, thank you very much for sharing your thoughts with us. First of all, could you tell us a little bit more about yourself and your background?

I am going to go back perhaps a little further than you might want but I think this gives a context for what I have done more recently.

I have been both an anthropologist and an artist my entire adult life and I have constantly switched back and forth between these interests, sometimes finding ways to combine them (with the Goddess project being one of the ways to do that).

I went to the University of Connecticut in the 1970s, the first in my family to go to college. I simultaneously fell in love with photography and anthropology. I graduated with a BA in anthropology and a year later with an MA in media and technology. Eventually I returned back to do an anthropology PhD in women’s history-rich are near Seneca Falls, NY, focusing on the Seneca Women’s Peace Encampment - an anti-nuclear protest with thousands of women camping out near a nuclear weapons facility. I published the results in a book that has recently been included in an open-access set of publications at Cornell University Press (

After that my husband and I ended up at UCLA where we established the Digital Archaeology Lab (I was the director), alongside teaching. The lab’s mandate was to explore digital technology for use in archaeological projects. We held conferences with world experts in this emerging field (in the 90s) and eventually published the first digital archaeology monograph that included open access to the raw data of the project. We explored virtual reality technologies during projects in Peru and Belize, where, in the late 1990s, we photographed objects in the national collection with a VR rig and also laser-scanned some of those objects with some emerging scanning technology.

We moved to the University of Pennsylvania where I taught in anthropology and cinema studies and did research on objects in the museum’s collection, focusing on artifacts of gaming, magic, and miniatures. In Philadelphia I also started working seriously in the art of miniatures, entering the Miniature Settings section of the Philadelphia Flower Show and winning Best of Show twice with my miniature recreations of a scene from Harry Potter and another of the set of the movie Rear Window, both with live plants and hand-crafted miniatures (see photos here:
My first use of 3D printing was in the making of a scene from Hitchcock’s The Birds.

More recently I have turned to miniature photography, creating odd scenes with low quality one-inch human figures in unusual settings. With 10,000 or more images already done (, I am looking forward to what the future holds for them. I have also started printing some larger low-res 3D figures that may lead to a new photography project.

Since retiring from teaching at the University of Pennsylvania I have art directed, curated, and exhibited in numerous shows at the Belmar Arts Center in Belmar, NJ, including “The Goddess Show” in which the Scan the World goddess figures were a feature. I also teach 3D printing, comic book design, and other courses at the Belmar MakerSpace.


Why 3D printing? How does it relate to/help with your current practice?

Back in the 1990s I had my head scanned and printed at SIGGRAPH ( the most exciting technology conference back then). The equipment to do both the scanning and printing were very expensive then but the possibilities stuck with me.

When we went to Belize to scan and photograph their national collection (mostly ancient Maya artifacts), our ultimate goal was to share these files so Belizean teachers could print them for their classrooms. Alas, we were way ahead of the curve, as the equipment to do inexpensive 3D printing didn’t come about for another 20 years or so. We used what we photographed to make panoramas and object movies for Belize, but even the technology used then was hardly accessible to indigenous people.

I was a member at the Philadelphia Makerspace called NextFab and studied 3D printing there for a bit, but their printers were still early versions that didn’t work very well. When I wanted to create a replica of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds for entry into the Philadelphia Flower Show in 2014, I needed hundreds of birds but the cost of miniature crafted ones was about $30 each. I figured the same amount of money could be spent on a 3D printer, so that’s when I got into 3D printing seriously. I bought a MakerBot Replicator 2 (which I still use), purchased some bird files, and posed and printed dozens of birds, bending the printed wings and heads by warming them up to make different poses. I also designed (in 3ds Max) and printed a jungle gym because I couldn’t find a model that resembled the one in the movie.

By the time I decided to do the goddess project, I was completely comfortable with all aspects of 3D printing and I researched and printed about 70 goddesses. I would say 95% of them were from Scan the World and they always printed beautifully. Some would take hours even at lower resolutions, but the worthy details needed good supports. Alongside showing the printed and painted goddesses, I also provided a binder file with all of the information about the goddesses, alongside correcting some of the information Scan the World has provided.

(Note from the STW team: Please do let us know if you do ever feel some information is incorrect or missing, we appreciate it greatly!)

How do you feel about openly accessible data and its possibilities?

Now you can see why I gave that detailed description of some of the early projects I worked on. I was committed to sharing data with all the archaeological and artifact projects I worked on as well as my own publications. But there is an issue that anthropologists face: the indigenous communities we work with have to both give permission for this sharing and they need to have a stake in the sharing, which is not always easy to carry out. In the next year we will be continuing negotiations with Belize on the sharing of their collection through 3D printing files and this is 20 years after the original scanning. Sometimes these things move slowly!

For a long time museums would not even share photographs of their collections for free, so the idea that they are starting to share 3D models is very exciting. I wonder how long it will take before all their collections are accessible.

What are your next steps? Any exciting projects, trips or contributions?

I have quite a few projects planned in the future that will use 3D printing:

- Ancient Pompeii diorama, right before Vesuvius exploded. I have been fascinated by the beauty of the buildings there and their preservation. I will be printing some furniture and decorative objects, some sculptures, and one of the body casts (all from Scan the World)

- I’ll be working on a miniature Cabinet of Curiosities with many of the objects printed in 3D

- We’ll be printing some costume parts in 3D at the Makerspace in the fall

- I am getting ready to create a collection of 3D models of inventions created by women for display at the 1876 World’s Fair in Philadelphia. I have all the patent files now and I think many of them can be created as 3D models. Hopefully (someday) I can design a few of them and have other people contribute their designs as well.

- I’ve also become interested in low-poly scans, I love their abstract nature. I am printing up 100 low-poly female figures for a political (#Resist) garden display.

What is your favourite sculpture?

Easy one: the Venus of Willendorf. When I was an undergrad anthropology major I scraped together the money I needed to buy a replica of her from a local gift shop (I still have it!). This replica is 14 inches tall and the real one is only about 4 inches, so when I found the excellent model on Scan the World I was finally able to print her the correct size. But I also printed her tiny and all sizes in-between.

In the goddess exhibit she is larger than in real life but I wanted her to be a dominant figure. I put her in the center with a bottle of wine nestled on her breast because after 28,000 years she deserves a drink! By the way, I did "The Great Goddess Bar and Grill” diorama not only because I thought it was a great way to show goddesses from different cultures meeting (and to show off the 3D prints), but also because it makes them a part of everyday understanding rather than having them apart from human activities.


Considering all of the above, what does Scan the World mean to you?

Scan the World has achieved what we imagined so many years ago: a way to share high quality 3D files that anyone can print. Having access to museum artifacts and their files in one place (instead of having to track them down in places all over the world) was so exciting for me. We moved away from this dream 20 years ago when we didn’t have the capabilities and I am so proud of the project now that it has made these scans available.

In the future, I would like to see some initiatives that teach kids how to download and print these files and then research the objects and make their own museum exhibits (in their classroom, at home, or in public places). Some museums have done this on a passive basis (giving visitors objects they can arrange) but I would like to see it really under the control of teachers and students. We always used to say about anthropology that when everyone is an anthropologist - exploring other worlds and times - we will all have a better world.

back to stories.