We recently redesigned our Civil War Exhibit at the Museum. The exhibit has stayed relatively the same for several decades. While it was full of incredible photographs and unique artifacts, an overall message or story was missing.
I started by reading all of the museums files on the Civil War and looking through the artifacts in the collection.
I came up with a few topics I thought should be focused on:
- Introduction to the Civil War (including years, and Kankakee’s role)
- Kankakee’s contribution to the war (number of soldiers and training camps)
- Weaponry and battle strategy (types of guns, and ammunition)
- What they wore (items of clothing and materials carried into battle by soldiers)
- Battlefield medicine (the surgical advancements during the time)
- Grand Army Of the Republic (the national and local branches)
I chose to use a sepia/beige color to match the look of tintypes or photos of the era. The museum has an incredible collection of early photography from the mid to late 1800s. When thinking of an overall design for the exhibit, I like to put together a mood board with photos, color pallets, artifacts, and typefaces. The photo below was used as part of my mood board and as an advertisement for the upcoming exhibit.
Above are some of the interpretive board designs that were made for the exhibit. I had help with the content development from Hannah Swale, Jack Klasey, and Jorie Walters. There is a mixture of photos of local soldiers and illustrations of battles. Two of my favorite boards are the “A Soldier’s Story” boards in which Hannah used letters written by soldiers to craft two war stories from local soldiers. I also love the diagram, “Carried to War”. It hangs above a case with many artifacts that match the descriptions on the board. While these designs were at the printer, we worked on some of our smaller projects.
This rifle exhibit case was just a little too bland. I wanted to add a background that would not take away from the rifles and sword, but that would accent the pieces. I found a scene of battle and had a vinyl produced. The fixtures were painted gold and wrapped in jute rope. The labels were added to the exterior of the case.
The original exhibit had many photos of soldiers from regiments from Kankakee hung on the walls. I wanted to use these, but there were far too many to highlight all of the soldiers. If too many were used, it would be overwhelming, so with the help of Jack Klasey, the photos were all given an oval shape to match our photograph theme and they were picked at random so that no one solder got more treatment than the next.
Many of the artifacts and cases stayed the same in the exhibit. The biggest change was the addition of the boards and personal stories of the soldiers.
These two shadow boxes were handmade by Ken Ponton. I added the crushed red velvet interior to match several other splashes of red throughout the exhibit.
Opening night was a hit! The exhibit debuted during a Civil War roundtable meeting. When working on an exhibit, I try to make sure that all types of visitors will leave having learned something. The novices, students, skimmers, and enthusiasts. Opening night was definitely a night full of enthusiasts and I was over the moon that they enjoyed the revamp and where all able to come out and support the museum.
Thanks for reading!