My First Museum Exhibit Installation

During the past two weeks, I had the wonderful opportunity to volunteer to help the Heritage Professionals prepare and install a small museum exhibit at the Toronto French School. When I worked at the National Museum of the United States Navy, I researched artifacts and history for museum exhibits, and edited and proofread exhibit labels and texts. This most recent experience complemented that work by allowing me to participate in the more physical aspects of installing exhibits.

Over the course of about 9-10 hours, I learned about the manual skills required to prepare and install exhibits, where previously I had only worked with the more intellectual aspects (i.e. researching and proofreading). On the first day, I used exacto knives, foam core board, and Letra Tac to prepare and back photographs and labels. This experience taught me how important fine motor skills are in preparing exhibits, how demanding these materials can be, and how delicate the work is. Letra Tac is marvelously unforgiving – set it down slightly off-center and it will stick that way. (Also: watch out for the little white dots – they stick to everything!) The advantage of this is that you can be certain your photograph will stick to its foam board backing! Additionally, learning to properly use an exacto knife, and to make precise, straight cuts takes lots of practice.

The second day began with more of the same work, but in the afternoon we carted all the materials to the entrance hall, where the display case stands. I observed the measurements that are done to make sure all the items in the display cases are evenly spaced, and how challenging a book case with sliding glass doors can be when designing the exhibit layout. I held and slightly moved some photographs and labels and applied glue dots myself, but the bulk of my contribution involved cutting out shelf-sized pieces of fabric and 45-, 50-, and 60-degree angled easel backs for the labels. The first time I’ve used geometry since high school, I’m sure.

Ultimately, these two days, while brief, were very educational and fun. I’m glad I had this opportunity to learn more about exhibit installation and curation.

To read more about the project, head over here to check out the Heritage Professionals blog post.

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