Client: Museum of Science, Boston
Project: Natural Mysteries Intro
Challenge: Curating and Displaying Museum Collections pieces without being able to handle the items before the cases and mounts were made and installed
Role: Exhibit Designer
During the renovation, the museum decided to allocate the theater in the Natural Mysteries Gallery (which never really worked the way they had hoped) to the new Yawkey Gallery on the Charles River. This architectural change meant that the flow in the Natural Mysteries Gallery needed to change and our exhibits team needed to create a new Intro Area. This was exciting on many fronts- it was a way to clarify the purpose of the gallery (utilizing our extensive Natural History collections to talk about the many ways to classify), it was a way to refresh an aging exhibit, and it was a way to creatively display some of our beautiful collections!
My inspiration for the design was classic Natural History casework where museum collections items became the focal point of the space. After our collections team and content developers identified around 50 artifacts that could be displayed in these cases, I spent countless hours taking photographs, measuring (from afar), and printing out full-scale images of each artifact to figure out how to arrange each case. This exercise helped us edit the list down to the final artifact selections. I then had to design and have custom floating shelving and mounts fabricated that would gradually increase in depth through the cases so that the interior lighting could beautifully illuminate the collections items. After all of the planning and fabrication, we spent a day on each case staging the artifacts and mounts on a tabletop to determine the final locations of each mount and shelf.
The Geology and Botany cases went smoothly with very little changes, but the Zoology case almost gave me a heart attack! In the original plan, the Opossum was supposed to sit in the middle of the case, but when we staged it, the Opossum shelf was so deep that it cut off all of the light to the bottom of the case. There was no question that the Opossum had to sit at the base of the case. This resulted in my having to jockey around the rest of the zoology collections and mounts so that the light was not impeded. I cannot say that I’m 100% happy with this case to this day- there are still some artifact locations that I would adjust if I could- but I made the best decisions that I could at the time with the resources at hand.
What I loved about this project was the extent of which I had to work with collections items- learning about mounting and protecting these items, finding out how to best display them, and making all of these decisions without being able to touch or get less than 6” from the artifacts myself.