|Don't worry, I'm not drilling into the trim!|
Hello! This is Michael Rice. I am the summer intern at the History Center. I am a soon to be senior at IU in Bloomington from Fort Wayne, studying Anthropology, Folklore, and Museum Studies, and want to share what I have learned about making a museum exhibit.
The first step in creating a museum exhibit is to start with a central theme that joins the objects to be displayed. The theme usually depends on the museum’s objectives. In the case of the Fort Wayne History Center, the themes revolve around our community, representing both the present as well as the past. With our 200@200 exhibit for Indiana’s bicentennial this year, all of the themes have a tie to the community.
The next step in creating an exhibit is choosing the best items to represent the theme. We search through the museum database with search terms that are relevant to the exhibit to make sure we do not miss relevant contenders to be included. Many are considered, but only the best or most interesting pieces are selected to be put on display. The registrar, director, and curator all have a voice in deciding the items that make the final cut.
Labels need to be made for the exhibits once the objects have been finalized. The database often has enough information to write the labels, but sometimes further research is needed. Using reliable sources is essential. While Wikipedia can be a great place to start, using scholarly articles is the best source for information. After the verbiage is finalized it is printed and mounted on foam core board. This is done using a special machine that heats up a heat sensitive glue paper that bonds the label and board.
When deciding how to arrange the objects, many drawings of the possibilities are developed. This helps to decide which design is best and takes into consideration size, height, color, similar materials, progression of age of the objects, and other factors pertinent to the display. One issue that arises with this is only having a limited number of display cases, which can be challenging. There never seems to be enough cases or the right size, but staff collaboration always makes a good display.
Finalizing and staging the case is the most satisfying part. After all the planning and research, the exhibit takes form. The plan either comes together perfectly, or it may have to be tweaked for unforeseen reasons like shadows, color clashes, labels too far away to be easily read, and weak lighting. While I was finishing a case working at the Mathers Museum of World Cultures, at Indiana University in Bloomington, I had a group of women from a nursing home come up to me and complain that the labels were too small and it was not bright enough to read let alone see the objects well. One of the sweet old ladies said to me “It’s too small and too far away to see with my glasses.” We reprinted the labels with larger type and adjusted the overhead lights. She came back a few weeks later and was very happy we had listened. If we helped her, we probably helped others have a more enjoyable experience too. We use boxes that have been painted white or acrylic boxes that need to be draped in white cloth which helps with light reflection and a blank space to highlight the objects. The best part of developing a new display is receiving good feedback from the public. The negatives we try to learn from and hopefully become better museum professionals.