Oysterponds Historical Society receives grant for augmented reality exhibit

Oysterponds Historical Society patrons will soon be transported to the past, thanks to a $125,000 “Digital Tapestry” grant the organization received last month.

Every dollar from the grant, given by the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation, will be used to support an augmented reality experience that will explore the history of the Revolutionary War on the North Fork. 

OHS will be linked with eight other historical societies across Long Island, from Brooklyn to Shelter Island, where distinct “experiences” will focus on each community’s roles in the American Revolution.

Alison Field Ventura, executive director at Oysterponds, said this project first came to their attention in January, when Gardiner Foundation executive director Kathryn Curran approached the society about the project. 

“It was kind of a no-brainer,” Ms. Ventura said. “It’s a great way to introduce technology to our visitors and, ideally, attract new audiences as well and re-engage the audiences we already have. We’re really excited to use this augmented reality technology to tell the story of the Revolution.”

The Gardiner Foundation was established in 1987 and primarily supports the study of Long Island history and its role in the American experience. Robert David Lion Gardiner was the 16th Lord of the Manor of Gardiners Island until his death in August 2004. Gardiner family members have owned the island since 1639, when it was obtained as part of a royal grant from King Charles I of England. The foundation was inspired by Mr. Gardiner’s personal passion for New York history.

Ms. Curran said it’s the foundation’s mission to advance the story of Long Island history.

“The Gardiner Foundation’s augmented reality offering, ‘Digital Tapestry,’ is innovative in that it aligns historical societies across Long Island by specific themes,” she explained. “This ingenious creation offers the public unprecedented history learning moments, which will also promote tourism. ‘Digital Tapestry’ is limitless in thematic scope and potential for the sustainability of our historic stewards.”

The augmented reality experience is being designed by 360XR, a U.S. company with experience in bringing technology, history and education together. On Long Island, they have previously worked with the Montauk, Shelter Island and Three Village historical societies, among others. 

While the exhibit is still very early in the design process, Ms. Ventura explained how it will work.

“You hold your phone up and then your camera is looking at the portrait and then the portrait comes to life and starts talking to you and tells you the [related] history,” she said.

Ms. Ventura said they are currently looking through the diaries of Augustus Griffin (1767-1866), an early Oysterponds historian. Although he was too young to fight in the Revolutionary War, his diaries contain the stories of local patriots, both men and women, who pushed back against British occupation.

“His diaries really outline the early history of Oysterponds,” Ms. Ventura said. “We don’t know what stories we’re going to tell yet. But there’s a lot of material to mine.”

OHS hopes to have the experience up and running for patrons to enjoy by next summer, Ms. Ventura said.

Since it’s founding in 1944, Oysterponds Historical Society’s collection has grown to include more than 60,000 artifacts, works of art and archival objects dating from early Native American times to the present.

“I think we’re the first [historical society] on the North Fork [to participate in this experience] but I doubt we’ll be the last,” Ms. Ventura said.”It’s a great project and so we’re thrilled.”