On Museum Displays, or Geeking Out Over Pins, Stands, and a Gantry

Most people go to museums and galleries to see art and artifacts, learn about the history of people and places, or just be entertained by interesting things.


I go to see how those things are displayed and see how they were mounted.


I am a total exhibits geek. My second day as a collections intern at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum was spent organizing and reorganizing mounting wires and pins. I guess my superiors intended it to be busy work, but I LOVED it. Learning how to construct a display was one of my favorite achievements as an intern and I put that knowledge to good use later in my career, installing new exhibits quarterly in Well-Known Non-Profit’s archive.

There are professional standards for the informational and educational aspects of museum exhibitions, in addition to guidelines for the safety and environmental stability of the media exhibited (the Northeast Document Conservation Center is a one-stop shop for any and all information on conservation). Organizations like the American Alliance of Museums, Society of American ArchivistsAmerican Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works, and UNESCO publish recommendations set forth by leading experts in their respective fields that exhibition staff may refer to when mounting and maintaining their displays. Many institutions develop their own guidelines based on the recommendations made by the above-mentioned groups, as well as their own experiences.

There’s no hard and fast rule that says one must use acrylic stands over foam blocks, or fabric book weights over polyethylene straps, however. That type of thing is up to the staff developing and installing displays. They will often use what’s on hand, what they’re comfortable with, and what their institution can afford.

An acrylic cradle supports the book and keeps stress off the spine. Polyethylene straps are used to keep the pages in place. The Mariner’s Museum, Newport News, VA.


A handmade ship on a custom display fashioned out of glass and fiber optics in the Crabtree Gallery at The Mariner's Museum. Imagine stepping into a dark gallery full of these display. Awesome.
A model ship on a custom display with fiber optic illumination in the Crabtree Gallery at The Mariner’s Museum. Imagine stepping into a dark gallery full of these displays. You can’t find these in a Gaylord catalog.

While I’m on the topic of awesome custom made displays (and still on the “let’s gush over how cool The Mariner’s Museum is” train), I’d be remiss if I neglected one of the coolest one-of-a-kind displays ever: The Batten Conservation Complex, part of The Mariner’s Museum’s USS Monitor Center, which was built to house and display the conservation efforts of the ironclad’s turret, engine, guns, and other artifacts.

The Batten Conservation Complex, part of The Mariner's Museum's USS Monitor Center which was built to house and display the conservation efforts surrounding the ironclad's turret, engine, and guns...

Yeah, if this whole place doesn’t count as the coolest custom display ever, I don’t know what will.

Okay, the Archaearium might be up there, too, because the building was designed to cantilever over the remaining foundation of Jamestown’s 16th century statehouse, which is viewed through glass panes set into the floor, making the museum itself a giant display case. So meta.



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