Three Exhibits. One Room. Two Months.

There’s a really great quote about exhibits that goes something like “Cheap, good, or fast. You can only pick two”. Recently, I decided to try and do the impossible by fulfilling all three of these categories while redesigning two exhibits and adding another in the North Gallery of the museum . The newly named North Gallery has had several names in my tenure at the museum. Staffers and visitors call it , “The Governor’s Room”, “The Lillie Gallery”, and “the room to the left when you walk into the museum”. We decided to give it a new name, and an exhibit face lift.  There was a two month slot in the museum’s exhibit schedule, and while this isn’t enough time to build a single exhibit, let alone three, we had the bare bones for each one and decided to take a crack at it!

The plan was to spruce up both the Three Governor’s Gallery and the Lillie Gallery, while adding a permanent F.D. Radeke Exhibit to the room. We had a few short months and could only keep the gallery closed for two weeks. This meant we had a lot of logistics to go through. Many of the larger pieces had to be moved in stages and some of the fabrications had to be nailed into concrete walls. It was certainly a challenge, but that has never stopped us before!

James Lillie: Life at the Turn of the Century (formally named, the “Lillie Gallery”)

The Lillie exhibit was full of really wonderful artifacts…too full. My plan for it was to reduce the amount of objects within the exhibit while highlighting the ones left, and to adding informative boards on James Lillie and the Gilded Age in America.


For the boards I looked up Gilded age designs, and when I couldn’t find one in the color of my choice, I made one using the Procreate app for my tablet.

For these boards I wanted to explain a little about why James Lille was important to the area. He was an architect that designed many buildings that still stand today (Shapiro) and many beautiful homes that have been demolished. He was alive and working during the “Golden Age” of Kankakee and the artifacts from his home and others like it, show what Turn of the Century life was like in this city. Unfortunately, while many of our artifacts on display are luxury home items, that doesn’t quite tell the whole story of the Gilded age in America, so the content editor, Hannah added additional content on the composition of America in the early 1900s.

This exhibit was one of the easier portions of the room. While we moved the Etagere from the Lillie home further into the exhibit, it actually made the space seem more open. We were then able to display luxury items from local estates on the Etagere. When artifacts can be safely displayed and housed on another artifact, that is what we in the business call a DOUBLE WIN! …no one actually says that, but lets pretend they do.







Kankakee’s Three Governors

For this exhibit I also ended up removing more than I put in, but adding more interpretive signage. I know that other exhibit designers use programs such as AutoCad and Sketchup to make their designs. I would love to learn how to use these programs, but in the meantime, I have found the easiest way for me to visualize the measurements of the space I have to work with is to take a photo of the space and write the measurements on it.


The terms served by each of the Governors in this exhibit were either short or controversial.  Indictments, short terms, and  convictions, are the most memorable aspects of history most people recall. Although we do not want to skate over these facts, we must also remember and learn about the policies and actions taken by these men that made a difference in Kankakee. I also added some information about state level government. I wanted people to leave the exhibit with some knowledge about the way each of the three branches of Illinois government work.







F. D. Radeke Brewing Company


We have had several incarnations of this exhibit throughout my time at the museum. It is always a favorite, and we are always acquiring new and exciting information and artifacts from this brewery. One of our newest finds is a 1900s ice chest the Brewery would give out to faithful customers. Its large size (and the fact that it is SUPER COOL) factored in to the exhibit getting a permanent home.


The first hurdle for this exhibit was to make shelving units to house some of the smaller artifacts. Once again without any formal training or access to design software, I improvised some shadow box shelf measurements. I chose to make six squares, two of each size, descending in size by four inches. I made sure the objects would fit by taping out the sizes and laying them in to check. We had some old barn wood available for fabrication materials. I also asked for another shelf for bottles to be made out of the left over barn wood. I gave the measurements and some sketches and plans to handy man Ken, who then set to work cutting the shelving units to size and building the bottle shelf. They turned out great!

I used a portion of one of the vintage logos as inspiration for the design of the interpretive boards.


The title board is an old postcard of the F.D. Radeke Brewing Comany complex.

I am very happy with the overall exhibit. It is one of my favorite exhibits to design to date. (EDIT: The light bulb has been changed. Our lighting system is old and hard to angle, but the glare is somewhat more manageable now.)



While I feel this was a lot to accomplish in such a short time, we have received a lot of positive feedback on this room from guests. I like to think we kept the best parts of the exhibits, and highlighted them by removing some of the excess. I couldn’t have done it without the help of the amazing staff and volunteers we have at the museum. I learned a lot as I do with each new exhibit design. This exhibit cost less than half of my projected budget (cheap), and it took only two weeks of closing off the gallery (fast). As for the quality, you can be the judge of that when you come see it! (good?).

Thanks for reading!


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