At the Alice C. Sabatini Gallery our exhibits aren’t just art on the wall or in display cases. We often build physical elements to add to the experience of an exhibit. Although we’ve built all kinds of things over the years, I’m highlighting a few of my favorites. These examples really show how adding extra features can enhance the feel of an exhibit.
H20 Kansas was our 9th annual summer exhibit for children. We displayed water-related artwork from our permanent collection, alongside art borrowed from individual artists and other museums.
To make the exhibit more relevant to kids in Shawnee County, we created a timeline of the notable floods that have impacted Topeka. It was fun to listen to parents and grandparents share their memories of the floods with young people who hadn’t experienced it themselves.
The real star of the show though, was our “wetland.” We turned a whole room into an immersive wetland environment, complete with real dirt. Gallery staff made a variety of animals out of foam board and placed them throughout the space. Tall grasses and branches added to the feel of a real wetland. We also included an old tire and other trash to show how humans can have an impact on the world animals live in.
Over There: Americans Abroad in World War I
We borrowed the Over There: Americans Abroad in World War I exhibit from the National Archives. The exhibit consisted of large black and white photographs. We worked with the Combat Air Museum at Forbes Field to borrow objects from the World War I era to help tell the larger story of the war.
Our big build for this exhibit was a life-sized trench. Our facilities department helped us create a recreation of a WWI trench from wood and corrugated metal. We added burlap sandbags (without sand, too messy!) and hands-on objects like a soldier’s helmet and canteen. Based on a historic photograph we found, we created a small recessed area in the trench wall to show where a soldier might try to get some sleep during a lull in the fighting.
Kansans Go To War
While the first two exhibits allowed visitors the choice of whether or not to interact with a built environment, these next two exhibits were designed to pull you in from the minute you stepped through the gallery doors.
We developed Kansans Go To War to lead in to the larger Over There exhibit. We wanted to acknowledge the Kansans who lost their lives in the war. Since the front gallery wasn’t a big enough space to build something, and the trench was such a big part of the other exhibit, we decided to go small.
We invited community members to make red remembrance poppies to honor service members who were killed in the war. We hoped we’d get enough poppies to surround the outside of the front gallery doors as a way to invite people in to see more.
Once we put out the call, Shawnee County residents got to work! We had crocheted, knitted, felt and paper poppies. Local craft guilds made bags full of poppies and kids created a lot of paper poppies.
We ended up with so many poppies that they surrounded the doors to the gallery, spilled onto another wall in the front gallery and framed the doors leading into the back gallery. Our community members really came through in a huge way.
Forest Bathing: a Walk in the Trees
For Forest Bathing: a Walk in the Trees we went big. We created papier maché trees that stretch from the floor to the ceiling. Each tree is a different species, so you’ll see an aspen, an elm, a sycamore and an oak.
As visitors move through the west gallery into the east gallery, they’ll walk through this little piece of the forest. While our trees are no substitute for a real forest, we hope they add to the tranquil feeling of the exhibit and help you forget about the worries of the outside world for a while.
Watch Our Trees Grow
This video is a time-lapse of gallery staff “growing” our trees. It takes a lot of papier maché to build a forest!