by Alli Pohl (MA, 2016)
During the summer and early fall of 2016, I interned at the California Academy of Sciences in the Exhibits Department as the Exhibit Registration Intern under the supervision of the Academy’s Senior Exhibit Registrar/Exhibit Collection Manager, Annette Gavigan. During this time I learned the basics of collections management and museum registration through hands-on experience preparing for one of the Academy’s newest exhibits.
Figure 1: Introductory wall for the Gems and Minerals Unearthed Exhibit
The Academy just replaced a five year old exhibit in their third floor gallery, transforming the space from the Anthropology Department’s Evolving Traditions exhibit to Geology’s Gems and Minerals Unearthed. The new exhibit officially opened to the public September 30, 2016, and houses nearly 400 gem and mineral specimens from the Academy’s permanent collection. The preparation of displaying a collection of this size required a keen sense of organization, quick problem solving, and most importantly teamwork. During my time in the Exhibits Department, I have found that all those involved in the exhibition heavily rely on teamwork for their daily operations and tasks.
Figure 2: (From left) Exhibit Designer Musette Murray, Registrar Annette Gavigan, Exhibit Content Developer Tamara Schwarz, and Geology Collection Manager Jean DeMouthe prepare an exhibit case mockup.
I interviewed a few members on the Exhibits team to gain better insight on their personal experiences working on the Gems and Minerals Unearthed exhibition and how collaboration has aided their work.
When talking with Pete Gibbon, Exhibit Preparator, I asked him, “Have you found any particular specimens or objects to be challenging in regards to your role on the Gems and Minerals Unearthed project?”
Pete immediately responded, “Yes. The copper specimen is an obvious choice.” The shape and the way to secure the specimen was challenging because it hangs overhead in a public area, mounted to a wall above a staircase. Nothing else in the exhibition poses that kind of exposure. Everything else is in a case, not counting the few examples of touchable specimens on display. He then described the ways in which he would bounce ideas off his fellow Preparators in order to create a mount for the specimen that best protected both the specimen and the visitor below. I was also able to witness the teamwork that went into the actual installation of the specimen on its wall mount one night after public hours. It was incredible how seamless the installation was, and how quickly it went because of the team’s habit of working well together.
Figure 3: Preparator Pete Gibbon (lower right) works with the installation team to mount the overhead copper specimen above a stairwell to the third floor gallery.
I asked Annette one day, “Can you think of an experience in which teamwork was utilized to overcome a problem related to this exhibition, either with members of the Exhibits team or external sources?”
Annette responded that planning for the installation of the oversized quartz specimen (see Figures 4 and 5) required a lot of teamwork. Annette and her team of Designers and Preparators had to work closely together in order to accomplish this move. The quartz specimen was stored in an offsite facility. The team had to visit the specimen to measure it, to determine how to deliver it and to decide how it to orient it in the exhibit space. The team had to coordinate their schedules, think through the logistics, and develop a step-by-step process to move and install the quartz. I was onsite for both the delivery of the specimen to the Academy as well as its movement into the gallery space. It was thrilling and also a little terrifying to see the team work to move this enormous 1,300 lb. specimen! Again, the work that the team put into planning the processes beforehand proved to make the actual movements smooth and problem free.
Figure 4: Exhibit and Operations team members strategize movements of the oversized quartz specimen after its delivery from offsite storage.
Lastly, I asked Tamara Schwarz, Associate Director of Exhibit Content Development, “How has the assistance or materials you have received from the Registrar impacted your assigned tasks on this project?”
She noted that registrars play a critical role in exhibitions because they help to organize and keep track of every object in an exhibit. With the large number of objects in Gems and Minerals Unearthed, the role of the Registrar proved to be invaluable for the rest of the team. From documenting all of the specimens (449 in total!) in lists with photos and keeping all folders and documents organized on Box and Smartsheet, this project could not have been completed without the assistance from the Registrar. Tamara stated, “I could not see how this would have worked otherwise.”
Gems and Minerals Unearthed has been a meaningful addition to the museum’s educational experience, and helping to prepare it has been meaningful to my educational experience as well. I learned that all the professional experience in the world is only as useful as your ability to work well with others. Please come to the Academy to see all of the Exhibits team’s hard work!
Figure 5: Our team is rock solid!
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