We are excited to announce the revitalization of our Ancestral O'odham Exhibit by Michelle & David Reid of Museum Pros. Take a look behind-the-scenes of the process from start to finish.
The Museum exhibits at Tubac Presidio State Historic Park are informative and engaging, but like any semi-permanent displays – are ready for a refresh. Early in 2023, park leadership engaged the services of museum consultants, Museum Pros, LLC to update the museum’s Hohokam Culture exhibit, Desert Places – Desert People. The result is a stunning new case with updated interpretation about the area’s first people. Stay tuned as we reveal a behind-the scenes story about how this exhibit came together!
During a recent visit to the Park Tohono O’odham cultural leaders suggested this Hohokam case be updated with a story that better reflects the tribe’s history, heritage, and vision for the future. Many museum exhibits about the Hohokam Culture describe it as “vanished.” Contemporary narratives about ancient Native American lifestyles in Arizona provide a continuous story that celebrates the vibrant and ongoing lifestyles of descendant communities.
THE PLAN - PART 1
Coming up with a plan to reinvigorate the dated case began with bold color, engaging graphics, and a fresh story. Explaining how a group of ancient people survived in the desert using simple tools if difficult. This is especially true for a culture for which we have few illustrations. The new case had to not only describe life for these desert dwellers but show how they thrived! Big themes like water management, engineering skills, and personal adornment were teased out to make the Ancestral O’odham come alive for museum visitors. After all, these people were much like us – they fell in love and raised families; they farmed and cooked and chatted about life with one another; they grew old and watched their grandbabies grow.
Museum Pros curator begins the design for Tubac’s Ancestral O’odham case. Archival research is always part of early exhibit work. The Ancestral O’odham case narrative required research at several locations, as well as consultation with Himdag Ki. First rule when writing someone else’s history – “nothing about us without us!
THE PLAN - PART 2
Step One: Eye-Catching Color
The Museum Pros team experimented with several color palettes for the new exhibit. Tohono O’odham communities today are bright and alive, but also have a deep connection to the earth and it’s worth. In the end, we decided on a verdant background = green. Green is calming, connected to the earth, and grounded. Two tones of green were chosen to anchor the case and show off the artifacts.
THE PLAN - PART 3
Step Two: Make a Visual Impact!
One of the most common mistakes in exhibit design is misjudging scale. Museum visitors need to be excited about what they see. Museum Pros attacked this challenge with scale. Titles and important graphics are large, every available inch of display space is used, and interpretation is layered for all types of learners. The large photo of Amy Juan with her beautiful basket of prickly pear fruit adhered to the front glass of the case immediately grabs visitors when they walk in the door and draws them into the exhibit.
Scale matters for graphics, but also for titles and signs. Notice how the new case sign goes all the way up the wall, and that sub-titles are large font.
Once an exhibit plan comes together, (and sometimes simultaneously!) the physical building of exhibit furnishings begins. Even small cases employ plinths, mounts, and lifts to help showcase artifacts at their best. What’s more, every artifact is different, which means they all require custom mounts! Skills used are diverse – woodworking, sewing, foam board shaping, and gluing – lots of gluing!
Museum Pros is a museum exhibit company that specializes in small museum work. Fabrication is done in a large workshop on commercial-grade tools. David Reid creates all the custom builds for Museum Pros exhibits. Working with a small (and we mean small – there are 2 of them) team, he juggles 5 – 7 exhibit projects at a time. His favorite shop tool? The sawdust vacuum system!
Trivia! The new Ancestral O’odham case includes 21 bespoke mount builds and 6 custom, die-cut font graphics.
Finally, it’s time for our favorite part – the installation. This is when months of research, planning, fabricating, and crossing our fingers comes together! Fact – you never really know whether or not an exhibit is going to work until you begin the installation. For the Ancestral O’odham case in the Tubac Presidio, installation actually began with deinstalling the previous exhibit. This meant cataloging and inventorying every artifact and storing them away while the dirty work was being done. And then – the dreaded painting!
The work of creating a new exhibit, whether large or small, is always fulfilling. The moment it comes together, and you clean and lock the sliding glass doors is THE BEST! Stand back and enjoy the transformation.