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Visit to the Madsonian Museum of Industrial Design

01 Mar 2015
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Archie Bunker House

Back in November I took a trip to Warren, Vermont for a shoot with photographer Michael Tallman at the Archie Bunker House. When you hear “Vermont” and “architecture,” I’m sure your thoughts don’t wander beyond red barns and white churches, but look up Prickly Mountain—the “anti-establishment utopia” of contemporary architecture. The Archie Bunker House is in that neighborhood of modernist homes, and really incredible. The shoot was a blast, and I promised Dave Sellers, the owner and designer of the house, that I would visit the Madsonian, his industrial design museum up the road.

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Madsonian Museum of Industrial Design, Waitsfield, VT

I ran out of time during that trip in November, but a few weeks ago I made good on the promise, returned to Vermont and paid a visit to the Madsonian Museum of Industrial Design in Waitsfield. The temperature outside was somewhere between 0 and 5 degrees, and inside, the museum wasn’t much warmer, but still my friends and I had a great time touring the museum with Mr. Sellers himself as our tour guide.

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The museum has an Industrial Designers “wall of fame,” an assortment of chair designs, vintage advertisements torn straight from magazines and pinned to the walls…

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…lighting, a Mason and Hamlin organ, and a 1934 DeSoto Airflow coupe…

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…an automatic pencil sharpener, Polaroid cameras, and many, many more examples of fascinating vintage and antique industrial design. Most everything on display had a personal story attached, such as this menu from the SS Normandie ocean liner. A couple donated it to the museum after their visit—they’d honeymooned on the ship in the 30s and kept the menu as a souvenir.

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The layout of the exhibit was strictly utilitarian, with minimal to no explanatory text or graphics and the bones of the building which housed it on display. One bit of clever exhibitry I liked was the use of retractable extension cord reels for spot lighting. Need to move something around? Just screw in a new hook.

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The Madsonian currently has an exhibition of classic toy designs, featuring model airplanes and trains (including the two biggest model trains built), an original Mr. Machine, and a toy cement mixer with which a kid could mix actual cement. Apparently the fatal flaw of the toy’s was user error—most surviving examples are welded inoperable by dried cement!

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If you go, be sure to grab a sandwich and a Sip of Sunshine afterward, at the Bridge Street Butchery across the street.

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Thank you to Michael Tallman for all photographs and to Dave Sellers for the museum tour!

Smithsonian Postal Museum’s “Freedom Just Around the Corner” exhibition opening

19 Feb 2015

Here are some more photos of the reception for “Freedom Just Around the Corner: Black America from Civil War to Civil Rights” at the Smithsonian Postal Museum. Thanks to photographer Bruce Guthrie for sharing these photos!

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A full write-up soon!

“Freedom Just Around the Corner” opens at the Smithsonian Postal Museum!

13 Feb 2015

Quick check-in! The exhibition I designed for the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum, “Freedom Just Around the Corner: Black America From Civil War to Civil Rights” opened yesterday!

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Last night was the opening reception with expected fanfare, including ribbon cutting and speeches, cocktails and finger foods. It was all quite nice. I love when exhibits open!

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Please excuse the crummy camera pics—full coverage of the exhibition will come soon!

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Alongside the exhibition, I designed the catalogue, postcard takeaway, special postal cancel, and exterior banners. (As soon as I have pics I’ll post them!) I mentioned to the ladies at the USPS table—who were selling commemorative stamps and giving commemorative cancels, and who were so lovely—that I was the designer and I ended up signing some books. It was very sweet. :)

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I Want to Design this Exhibit: Banned Books Week

03 Oct 2014

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While scooting through downtown yesterday I saw these great big graphics on the side of the the DC Public Library on G Street. Good job on being eye catching. I like the red blocks—they make me think of classified documents and Sharpied memos.

As the graphics had so successfully caught my attention, I was saddened to learn that I have missed Banned Books Week 2014 (September 21–27) and all of its associated events. But I have enjoyed designing a little temporary exhibit in my mind…books to flip through, excerpts printed large (I imagine someone reading one and saying, “really?! Charlotte’s Web??”), discussion about First Amendment rights and censorship…. Yeah. Next year?

Pacific Exchange, open at the National Postal Museum!

26 Apr 2014

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Thank you to James O'Donnell of the Smithsonian for the above photo.

It’s open!

Okay, old news. It opened well over a month ago—seven weeks ago—on March 6. I had also planned to post about the opening reception, but that was March 20 so—old news there as well. In any case, the reception was lovely, with Asian food served and tinkling glassware and everyone dressed quite nicely. Also, my colleague and friend Maria Felenyuk, who designed the graphics for the museum’s new Stamp Gallery, was back in town from traveling the globe and joined us [she’s available—you should hire her!]—so it was great! Exhibit openings are the best!

Pacific Exchange: China & U.S. Mail is the second exhibit to be on view in the Postmasters Suite gallery at the Smithsonian National Postal Museum. From the exhibit website: Using mail and stamps, Pacific Exchange brings a human scale to Chinese-U.S. relations in three areas: commerce, culture, and community. The exhibit focuses on the 1860s to the 1970s, a time of extraordinary change in China. It also explores Chinese immigration to the United States, now home to four million Chinese Americans.

Upfront: I’m a stamp nerd. I have a small collection of Olympics stamps, mostly international, mostly from the 1960s and 1970s. (You have to focus when collecting stamps!) I really enjoyed working on an exhibit about philately. :)

I handled all of the design myself, from designing the exhibit “look” to laying out production files for all of the graphics. I also created the exhibit plan and did the artifact case layouts. Even though this is a small exhibit space, it had more than 100 artifacts, so making [nearly] everything fit comfortably was a bit of a challenge!

Here’s an example of how the case layouts looked during design development:

 

And here are those same cases, made real:

Most of the exhibit text is in English and Chinese, a design challenge I enjoyed. In the artifact case below, some of the artifacts were loans that I had to display flat; hence the stepped design of the case furniture. The other half was at 15° to create a comfortable reading angle.

I arrived at the color palette after some research into culturally significant colors in Chinese culture. I used red and gold—a quintessential Chinese color combination—as the dominant exhibit colors, with a deeper maroon red for accent. I used a third red, one with pink undertones, (red, the color of prosperity and good fortune, among other meanings) for the Commerce section of the exhibit; yellow, the color of heroism, for the Community section; and blue-green, or “qing” to give a feeling of Chinese history and tradition, for the Culture section. (My descriptions of the color symbolism are very simplified.) I also drew distinctive vector patterns for each section.

Graphics were digital output mounted on sign blank, trimmed to edges, with a matte overlaminate. The wall-mounted and freestanding graphics were backed with 1/2″ MDF painted Benjamin Moore “Bonfire” to match the primary exhibit red (Pantone 1795). The freestanding graphics had duplicate panels on either side of the mdf—a panel sandwich which was held in place by adjustable metal sign bases. The Smithsonian Office of Exhibits Central printed and built the graphic components. Blair Fabrication built the case furniture.

Colors, patterns, and fonts used:

 

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The element that most people rave about is the group of banners in the entrance. There are four individual banners and they’re more than 20 feet tall! EPI Colorspace printed and installed them. (Install pictures here.) They were printed on “Brilliant Banner” 12 mil. polyester banner fabric. The fabric has a very subtle canvas texture that wasn’t what I originally intended—I wanted a silken look for the banners—but the color saturation and printing quality was so good that I went with EPI’s recommendation. If you want to try the material remember that individual results will vary based on your printer and the equipment they use.

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The stretched-fabric graphic in the Commerce section (a second introduction for those visitors who entered from the Stamp Gallery), shown in the picture at the beginning of this post, was printed on a different fabric, one that could be stretched onto a frame. No one can tell the difference. (Well, now you can, but only because I told you!)

I was also able to design a few of the related print graphics: the catalogue, a postcard, and the invitation to the opening reception.

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The exhibit’s been well-received overall and I’m happy with how everything turned out—and proud! More photos of the exhibit and print graphics are on my portfolio, here and here.

And if you’re in DC between now and January 4, 2015 (when it closes), please check it out!

Hazy memories of the Perot Museum

20 Mar 2014

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A few days ago I was talking with some colleagues about the Perot Museum of Nature and History in Dallas, Texas. Someone remembered one responsive interactive; I remembered a different one…and then I remembered that I hadn’t shared any photos from my visit [nearly a year ago].

The responsive interactive I remember was in the lobby. Models of water molecules danced up and down from the ceiling in response to the movements of people below. The molecule models were controlled by cameras in the ceiling that sensed movement and triggered motors that made them dance.

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And that’s about where my memories break down. What I do remember is how large the museum is, with 11 permanent exhibits, and that the day I went it was jam-packed:

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My group was the last to get tickets for the next entry (all entry was timed). There was something there for everyone though, even if it took a bit of maneuvering to get around and find it. I liked the dinosaur gallery:

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And bits and pieces of other galleries, including the entrance to the Gems and Minerals Hall:

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I was really taken with these benches sprinkled throughout the museum, with their cut-out factoids:

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Overall, we were intrigued, learned some things, and had fun. But don’t ask for details because I really don’t remember. I’ll just wrap this post up with a photo I took of the roof:

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From the museum’s Wikipedia page: It has a stone roof which features a landscape of drought-tolerant greenery inspired by Dallas surroundings. … Building on the museum’s commitment to resource conservation, the new building integrates a variety of sustainable strategies including a rainwater collection system that captures run-off water from the roof and parking lot, satisfying 74% of the museum’s non-potable water needs and 100% of its irrigation needs.” Nice.

Pacific Exchange install

27 Feb 2014

I stopped by the Smithsonian National Postal Museum to check in on the installation of Pacific Exchange. I’m excited for the exhibit—my Gallagher & Associates swan song—to open next week, on March 6!

While I was onsite, EPI Colorspace was there installing the large-format graphics. I’m very satisfied with the quality. Below, one of the EPI guys installs the hanging hardware for a set of three banners that introduce the exhibit. To the right is a fourth banner with the exhibit title.

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Above: After the banners were unfurled they were checked and checked again to ensure that they hung plumb. (Success!) The major graphics for this exhibit were in both English and simplified Chinese. Below: The windows to the right of the banners belong to the educational loft; we had some spectators!

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Below: A detail of the weight at the banner’s bottom.

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Above: Within the exhibit’s main room there is another dramatic introductory moment, this time produced in fabric stretched over a wooden frame and hung with heavy-duty D rings. There were happily no problems with measurements and everything went up easy peasy—I had my fingers crossed because there are odd cabinets with door knobs and molding behind the graphic. EPI said I must be lucky. :) Below: Graphics wait to be installed within the window openings between the gallery and the lobby.

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Above: Work zone!—and three of the completed artifact cases. Below: Installed artifacts. More photos to come when everything is complete!

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