Skip to main content
Alten Online Digital Library

Digital Raisonné of Mathias Alten's Works

The GVSU Art Gallery manages a collection of over 15,000 works of art, including paintings by Mathias J. Alten (1871-1938), one of Grand Rapids’ most successful artists. RDG used the Drupal 8 CMS to design and develop an engaging and accessible web portal that highlights Alten’s lifetime work. The Drupal site connects via API to GVSU’s Collective Access database to search the complete Alten collection, and interweaves scholarly essays and videos to showcase Alten’s legacy in narrative form. 


Front-end Development
Back-end Development

Drupal 8

Collective Access

Project Brief

At the outset of the project, information about the artist was scattered across several digital and physical sources. A primary goal of the project was to pull together all of these assets into a single seamless digital location, which:

  1. Maximizes user accessibility (including mobile device optimization)
  2. Pulls and displays API data results from the current Mathias J. Alten online art collection database at, which is built using the open-source collection management system
  3. Integrates the overall design concepts and content from the printed publication, Mathias J. Alten: An Evolving Legacy

The GVSU Art Gallery wants site visitors to discover multiple collections (archive material, physical artwork, interview transcripts, essays, etc.) when browsing or searching on a singular subject matter.

The target audience for this website service are the students, faculty, and staff at GVSU, as well as independent scholars, national art museums and institutions of higher learning across the country.

Mathias J. Alten: An Evolving Legacy book cover

The Monograph Volume

In an effort that took nearly three years, Mathias J. Alten: An Evolving Legacy is a collection of paintings, sketches, history, and essays centered around the impressionist painter. The website design needed to correlate with the design of the book's pages.

What We Did

The design inspiration for the site comes from the printed publication, Mathias J. Alten: An Evolving Legacy. The goal of the visual design was to embrace the style of the printed piece, while adhering to best practices for accessibility on the web. Along with this significant design requirement came many technical and user experience challenges as well, as we worked with GVSU to devise a fluid interface for discovering and exploring the Alten’s works in the context of space and time.


Lack of data standardization


Painting information normalization

It is common for website data sources to be a bit fragmented and redundant, especially when coming from multiple locations. Rather than simply route information from a remote source to the new website, we created a process that consumed the raw data, and then applied a series of rules resulting in just the information we need, expressed clearly, and nothing more.

Interpreting map data


Google Maps Static API

Placing a marker on an image of a map requires the coordinates of a particular location. Luckily this information was already captured in the data source, which allowed us to focus on the most effective and performant way to display a painting's location. We used Google's "Static API" to lower cost and increase performance since displaying the location of a painting didn't require interactive exploration of the map.

Converting static design into interactive, responsive pages


Combine design elements with web best practices

Making a website have the same look and feel as a book can be a difficult, as each medium has different capabilities and restrictions. To bring the spirit of the book through to the website in an accessible, mobile-first, robust way, we took smaller design elements such as borders and typography and carried them over faithfully. Asymmetrical image grids on the site reflected those in the book, but were built to be configurable by content administrators.
masonry grid of Mathias Alten's impressionist paintings
Mathias Alten Online Digital Library homepage
"We approached Rapid Development Group with an innovative and challenging project and they delivered a polished and successful product on time and on budget. The end result is a dynamic web portal for the Michigan Dean of Painters, Mathias J. Alten. This site includes video, images, scholarship, timelines, and imports API data from a robust relational database. The team at Rapid Development Group made this challenging task easy for us and fully realized our hopes and vision for the project."
Nathan Kemler
Assistant Director of Galleries and Collections
Grand Valley State University