The New York Public Library (which already has some pretty amazing digital collections) made big news this past January by making over 180,000 public domain images available as high-resolution downloads. Because the images are in the public domain, there are no restrictions on use: you can download them, slap ’em on a mug or t-shirt, and even incorporate them into your own art. It’s pretty freaking cool. NYPL has also developed some really neat discovery tools to make it easier to explore this collection: you can browse by date, genre (with formats including maps, prints, photos, and more), topic, and even color. This is an amazing resource for researchers and artists alike.
You could easily spend hours browsing. To get you started, I did some digging and found lots of great craft-related images. The bulk of the images are from the 19th century, but the earliest images available date from the 11th century. Because of this, I decided to set the date filter to 1000-2000. As of this posting, that search brought back over 113,000 results! Within those results, I narrowed down the images by using the topic filter. Here’s a few to give you an idea of the possibilities:
- Arts & Crafts
- Decoration and Ornament (this one is especially awesome if you’re looking for motif inspiration!)
- Patterns (Design Elements)
- There are several different topics beginning with “Women–Clothing & Dress” that cover different geographic regions and centuries. For instance, there’s Women–Clothing & Dress–Iran and Women–Clothing & Dress–Italy–1300-1399.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. You should definitely take time to explore and see what you can find.
I’d love to see what you do with the images you discover. I’m already brainstorming ways I can incorporate some of these images into quilt or cross stitch designs. Feeling stuck? NYPL even has a blog post with ideas for using public domain images in your own art. You can share your creations on Instagram with the hashtag #nyplremix.
I’ll leave you with what is easily the best photo in the collection: