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How to Put a Curator in a Box: Part 1

August 14, 2012

by Helen Chappell

One of the biggest misconceptions we run into as “exhibitionists” is the idea that once we have an exhibit out on the Museum floor, our work is done.  I’m actually guilty of believing this myself – I (in)famously asked my now-colleagues during my job interview what would be left to do after we opened the new Nature Research Center.  Turns out that we’re constantly updating what’s on the floor, doing everything from swapping out a single fish label on one of our tanks to creating whole new displays, even in our main building.

One such update we’re working on now is what we call our “Curator in a Box” exhibit.

Photo of a curator crouching in a box

Entomologist Jason Cryan models the basic idea.

It’s just about what it sounds like (okay, maybe not quite).  It’s a display case in our Nature’s Explorers gallery where we “box up” a bit of information about a Museum curator’s research, along with tools and specimens they work with.  It’s a way for y’all to learn a bit more about the natural sciences research that happens here at the Museum and peek behind the scenes a bit.  We like to swap out which curator is in the box every so often to keep it fresh.

Photo of curator in a box display.

Paleontologist Trish Weaver has been stuck in the box for a while now. We should probably let her out.

Our current victim curator is Jason Cryan, our Director of Research and an entomologist.  You can read a bit about his work over at the Research & Collections blog.  In fact, reading his blog posts is where we got started when we sat down to start boxing him up – it helped us to get a feel for what sort of research he does, and it started the idea machine churning for cool ways to put that research on display.

The next step was to bounce those ideas around a bit, between Wendy and Jason and myself, mostly.  Wendy and Jason decided on some props to fill the case with – a net for capturing the insects he studies, a few real specimens from his collection, and lab tools used for DNA analysis.  The problem with displaying the real insects, though, is that they’re tiny, and the ones he studies are so beautiful that they deserve to be seen on a larger scale.

Photo of the dragon-headed bug, Phrictus quinquipartitus

See? I wasn’t kidding when I said they were gorgeous. Used with permission from Jason Cryan.

This calls for a model!  Enter Dwight Burke, our skilled model-maker.  After going through pictures of different specimens, we were able to settle on a bug that’s relevant to Jason’s research but would also make a good model.  It’s a challenging part of our job to balance what’s interesting and relevant against what’s feasible and visually appealing.

Right now, our model bug is beginning to take shape, as is the display’s text.  Stay tuned for an update as the exhibit comes together!

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 16, 2012 11:09 am

    Reblogged this on NC Museum of Natural Sciences Blogs.

  2. Dr. Charles Reap permalink
    August 16, 2012 6:56 pm

    One big word: WOW!

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