Thursday, August 16, 2012

Building an Exhibit

     Building a museum exhibit requires a lot of planning, teamwork, and just plain hard work!  I thought I’d take you on a pictorial tour of the process. 

     The final exhibit in my museum deals with modern military medicine and how the basic principles are pretty much the same as they were in the Civil War.  It also highlights the fact that medical advances made have civilian applications as well.  We’ve been fortunate to have support from the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command at Ft. Detrick in developing this exhibit.  However, in 2009 it became clear that the exhibit needed to be updated, so with their continued support, we were able to expand and update this exhibit.

Here’s the “before” photo, in February of 2009. You can see that the original exhibit was in an enclosed case. Three of the four large, and very heavy, glass doors have been removed. On the floor you can see the black suction cups that were used to help lift them. The television monitor on the wall will be removed and reused in the new exhibit. The new exhibit will not be enclosed and it will wrap around to the walls on either side of the old exhibit case. This will involve some construction – and some careful planning!

The next order of business was to construct a temporary wall to keep the construction zone separate from the museum galleries. This was for the safety of our visitors and the artifacts on display. It also cut down on the noise and dirt in the galleries.

Next the construction of walls for the exhibit could begin. The plan called for extending that small platform you see on the back wall along the side walls as well. That’s the top of a vacuum cleaner at the bottom of the photo. The construction space was vacuumed every evening to minimize the sawdust and other dirt tracked into the rest of the museum.

By early March the walls were ready to be painted!

Here are the base colors for the walls. The yellow wall is the back wall, and the two side walls are deep red. They won’t stay this plain for long though! The plan is to paint some silhouettes in darker paint along the bottom of the walls.

The stencils have been applied to the walls and are ready to be painted.

Here the stencils have been painted and the supports for the platform are in place.

The next day the paper was peeled away. You can also see an electric outlet that was added to the wall, to accommodate a second television monitor.

We were all pleased at how good the stencils looked!

This photo was taken in mid-March. The old television monitor is in its new place in the exhibit. Some photos and display panels have been added as well. 

A second television monitor was added on the opposite wall, and the lettering was applied to the walls. 

A timeline of medical advances was installed on the back wall. A photo of Major Jonathan Letterman represents the Civil War period on the timeline.

It’s almost the end of March now, and it’s finally time to take down that temporary wall. You can see here that the platform has been completed. The exhibit isn’t quite complete yet, but the construction phase is done.

Have you ever tried to put an Army uniform and boots on a mannequin? It’s not easy!

Next the mannequins have to be secured to the floor – we don’t want them to fall on anyone!

We called in some experts to be sure we had all the details of the uniforms correct.

Here’s the first mannequin, modeling some Army chemical defense equipment.

Our second mannequin is wearing the gear of a Combat Medic/Health Care Specialist.  Though normally the numerous pockets on this uniform would hold essential medical items, we made the pockets look full by adding stuffing and small blocks of wood!

It’s almost done now! All of the panels, lettering, and other graphics are in place. We’re just waiting on two display tables which will be placed on the platform.

In June the display tables arrived. They are used to display various modern medical items alongside their Civil War counterparts where applicable. You can see that some of them are still very much the same, like the tourniquets, scalpels, and scissors. Others have evolved more noticeably, like the stethoscope, medicines, and bandages.

Here’s the finished exhibit. Though it required a lot of work and some aggravation, it was definitely worth it! 

Photos courtesy of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.

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