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Ideas needed for museum displays.

Posted by Ralph Bottrill  
avatar Ideas needed for museum displays.
April 14, 2012 05:56AM
The Tasmanian Museum are looking for ideas for a new Earth Science display. I am hoping we will get a mineral display back, and fossils of course, but besides that, does anyone have any good thoughts? I was told to ignore the cost factor for starters (!)

avatar Re: Ideas needed for museum displays.
April 14, 2012 08:58AM
Of course if money was really no object I would start with a personal fact finding tour of world museums!

Re: Ideas needed for museum displays.
April 14, 2012 11:55AM
HI RALPH, I don't profess to have a lot of knowledge about this subject, just my observations and what I hear. Mineral and fossil displays in museums used to be straight forward; lighted cabinets, one after another, geared to collectors or those just wanting to walk thru and see one pretty crystal group after another........boring by many folks standards. In the last couple of decades or so these museum mission ideas have changed radically, now to catering more to families, especially those with youngsters wanting to LEARN about the world around them. With regard to minerals, this includes more interrelationships of each displayed mineral and its uses by man in industry and our every day personal lives . The exhibits now have become much more interactive with the museum visitors, rather than just one lit mineral cabinet after another. Lots of lights, push buttons, moving parts etc and fewer total displayed minerals, but more attention to specific displayed ones that have important uses to man, as I just mentioned. Rock collecting, as a hobby, is stressed to the visitors by having "panning for gold" and collecting talks etc on a regular daily basis. Heavy mining equipment, including a giant dump truck are displayed on the museum grounds.

So, having said that, I use the TELLUS MUSEUM OF SCIENCE museum in North Georgia as an example. The museum is a "new" one about 30 miles North of the city of Atlanta. It is the site of the previous William Weinman Mineral Museum. A bit of history.......William Weinman owned barite mines in this area and also collected minerals. His museum legacy was a nice medium sized classic mineral museum. Then, about 6 or 7 years ago that museum was closed and the new, much, much larger state of the art and more complete TELLUS MUSEUM was built. His mineral collection was incorporated into the William Weinman Mineral Galleries as only one part of the whole Tellus museum. Less total minerals displayed (I guess the rest of his minerals are in storage), but much more of the interactive learning experience as described above. Everything is now very modern and there is even a great gift shop. The general public loves it and the museum gets very good reviews, but the few of us just wanting to see cabinet after cabinet of crystal groups and small lumps of rare mineral containing rocks might be disappointed. The bottom line is that the mineral displays are geared toward a learning experience for the general public with families; the die hard and advanced mineral collectors might be disappointed.......

I have been a member now since the Tellus opened, and when visiting my family in Atlanta, we all go GOOD LUCK BOB HARMAN
Re: Ideas needed for museum displays.
April 14, 2012 12:49PM
You might consider a display of fluorescent materials, minerals among them. I know some people reading this are already thinking "What a waste of space -- just pretty things glowing in the dark," and yes, there are many displays like that, with attractive minerals and little else. But minerals were the basis for the entire phosphor industry, and a display that integrates fluorescent minerals with the use of fluorescent materials in our everyday lives is educational as well as being a sure hit with the public. Here at Sterling Hill Mining Museum (Ogdensburg, New Jersey, USA), where I work, we display not only fluorescent minerals, but tagged postal stamps, automotive fluids tagged with fluorescent dyes, paper currency from all over the world (most of the bills have fluorescent strips or fibers embedded in them to deter forgery), several grades of office paper (fluorescent dyes increase the whiteness of the paper), on and on and on. We go into fluorescent light tubes, TVs and computer monitors, LEDs, etc., all of which use the mechanism of fluorescence to produce their light. Exhibits that illustrate the connection between raw material (fluorescent ores and minerals) and end-user products can be quite educational and, properly constructed, visually fascinating as well. Don't forget to include bottles of petroleum, straight from the well -- it's a fluid that underpins entire economies. Also, if you wish (and we do), fluorescence takes you directly into the realm of electron transitions within different minerals, an endlessly fascinating subject in its own right. It's a great introduction to subatomic physics.
avatar Re: Ideas needed for museum displays.
April 14, 2012 01:19PM
Hi Ralph. Visited the new display in the Melbourne Museum today while Di was at the quilt show (as was your lovely wife too!). You need to get over to see it. Really good!

Re: Ideas needed for museum displays.
April 14, 2012 02:53PM
I went to the American Museum of Natural History recently. Two things stood out, lighting was bad, "take a flashlight" bad,my grandsons just walked right on by most of it. The meteors caught their attention cause they were well lighted and they could touch some of them.

Also they used the method of lableing useing numbers and a legend on one end of a 10' display, you lose where your at. I think the lable should be right there with the mineral. I have seen displays of the periodic table along with minerals and their uses that I thought were very good. Hands on for kids and adults really seem to draw people...Just my 2 cents...Mike
Re: Ideas needed for museum displays.
April 14, 2012 04:11PM
The general public seems to always like gold and gems so I don't think you can go wrong with that. How about a display based on birthstones - everyone has one so people have an automatic interest and association with it and you can show both the mineral and the cut gem.
Re: Ideas needed for museum displays.
April 14, 2012 07:20PM
Ralph, have sent you some info (photos) via email.
Re: Ideas needed for museum displays.
April 14, 2012 07:27PM
Related to a prior post, I have been in several museums (not necessarily minerals), where the labels were impossible to match with the specimens unless one already knew what he/she was looking at. Especially when trying to educate, labels large enough to be read, and clearly associated with the relevant objects, are essential.

avatar Re: Ideas needed for museum displays.
April 14, 2012 07:50PM
Since I joined a Friends of Museum organization recently, I have been thinking about this.
Having a visual "gimmick" is always good, and the fluorescent display has already been mentioned.

1) Assemble a cloud chamber with the ability for a viewer to move different specimens close to the display to see the relative reactivity. Also include a poster which discusses the benefits of radiation, such as people who have been cured of cancer.

2) A hands-on display using polarized light. Set up flat screen monitors displaying white. Have polarized glasses (such as those for 3-D movies) on leashes and available to wear. Have on hand a variety of transparent specemins include mica.

Dean Allum
Re: Ideas needed for museum displays.
April 14, 2012 08:15PM
Lighting is absolutely crucial. One thing that I think would be interesting, which of course we cannot do in the army museum where I work (though we DO have a small case of local minerals!!), would be an exhibit of how the secondaries form due to the action of weathering on a deposit. Beginning at the top or left of the case, you have the sulphides, then labels explaining how they break down and how the elements recombine to form other minerals. Maybe a few specimens of galena, a small molybdenite, some pyrite, chalcopyrite, then the labels discuss weathering, then a BIG chunk of "limonite," followed by some labels describing how wulfenite, for example, can form then. Or for copper, a few ore samples from a porphyry deposit, then labels discussing weathering and the action of water, creating a cap of beautiful examples of native copper and cuprite found as a deposit is open-pitted.

One thing we are working on where I work, we have a large chunk of blue marble, containing dehydrated, white nodules of what were once chert - they have a "rind" of epidote. We hope to get a nice chunk of limestone with "fresh" chert soon, and can create a label discussing how heat and pressure applied to the limestone/chert changes it into the marble and other minerals. Yeah, not what people expect in an army museum, but we're a bit different! People no longer go to museums to see "cool stuff." Increasingly, they want to be educated, they want to be engaged, and it's not enough to have pretty rocks (or other artifacts); the interpretation really has to grab and hold their attention.

Anyway, that's my 2 pfennigs worth!

avatar Re: Ideas needed for museum displays.
April 14, 2012 10:39PM
Hi all,

I used to put together exibitions, not in museums but on local fairs and clubs.

What interests the people is not only minerals but what you can make out of it.
That makes it interesting for collectors and for the non collectors. This kind of exhibits is focused especially for the people who are NOT interested in minerals and to catch their attention. The people interested in minerals are coming anyway.
Do you imagine how many minerals you use every day ? Well, not really minerals but tools and things made out of them.

So I put on display cases with vanadinite and a chromite specimen with a small wrench. Label the specimens as " vanadium ore or vanadium bearing, also with the chromite. Just take care to put the Chrome-Vanadium sign on the wrench upwards

I had a quartz crystal with a solar element who produced electricty and let turn a little specimen around.
A piece of malachite and a copper electric wire.
An ilmenite specimen with artist Titaniumoxide paint tube.
Halite with salt.
Sphalerite, graphite and manganite with a battery.
Native silver with a silver coin.
Bauxite with a piece of aluminium window frame.
Cassiterite with a printplate from a computer.
Renierite or germanite with a transistor.
Cinnabar with a thermometer.
Fluorite with a toothpaste tube ( mentionning " fluor " )
And so on. You can put as much minerals as you find things made out of them and the combinations are infinite. Just look around in your house, workplace and garage. And let the brain work.
I can guarantee you amazing results.
Everybody watching the exhibit can find something she or he uses frequently and often EVERY day. ( toothpaste, salt, computer, batteries, money etc.... )

I hope this helps.

Take care and best regards.

Re: Ideas needed for museum displays.
April 14, 2012 11:14PM
Wonderful ideas, Paul!
Re: Ideas needed for museum displays.
April 15, 2012 03:13AM
Paul, you read my mind!! The former Arizona Mining Museum had a rather large display of the economic uses of minerals and mineral ores. This idea could be updated with the components that go into so many things in our lives from automobiles to computers and cell phones etc. What a neat thing if it could be made interactive, taking the viewer all the way back to the starting components of our complex technologies. My own favorites are the components of modern dentistry: porcelain, ceramics, implants, synthetic bone grafting materials, even gold restorations or components of crown and bridge work.

Ralph, let us know what you finally decide on.

Re: Ideas needed for museum displays.
April 15, 2012 03:20AM
Mineral related:
Well lit displays.
Examples of specimens in situ.
A gold in situ and diamond in situ exhibit along with examples of their practical uses.
An exhibit on cryolite and it's importance, along with the Hall Heroult Process.
Radioactive minerals with cloud chamber and GM counter.

Geology related:
A liquefaction demonstration.

Tornado chamber.
Lightening chamber.
avatar Re: Ideas needed for museum displays.
April 15, 2012 03:37AM
Some great suggestions. I would agree that people like to know how minerals relate to them in real life applications. Interactive displays could be balanced off with a display case of cabinet minerals, for example an interactive set about copper could also adjacently host a whole suite of pretty and colourful copper minerals, ditto for lead, etc.
Having just recently done a talk on zeolites, I would have to suggest those as they are not only numerous
but also have many common uses in our daily lives.

We recently had a representative from the Royal Ontario Museum (Toronto) give a presentation at our club regarding gem minerals.
One of the interesting parts of the presentation had to do with prepping the displays.
From start to finish, with all the design and ergonomic planning, graphics, labelling and lighting, the finished product takes 7 years to complete.

I think you will get far more ideas than you are able to manage!

Good luck with this project!

stephaniesmiling smiley
Re: Ideas needed for museum displays.
April 15, 2012 05:28AM
There is a small sign in the mineral and mining museum in Leadeville, Co. stating,"everything begins with mining". I love Paul's idea to show what beginings lead to. While studying ceramics long ago, I would use a tool called a Chip Monk to crush and grind everything from feldspar to tourmaline to incorperate into pottery and sculpture. Much of the materials used in clays and glazes are also in my mineral cases. Your local master potters could make a couple mining and mineral themed urns and they could be displayed with samples of their mineral content.
Re: Ideas needed for museum displays.
April 15, 2012 06:32AM

Much of my original Ivigtut, Greenland collection comes from a man named David Snair, also known as "The master of glazes" for his work in crystalline glazes. I believe he was using cryolite from Ivigtut in some of these glazes. In with the collection was also metallurgy equipment (which someone else bought), and I think originally belonged to a woman named Dawn King. I speculate they also did some of their own aluminum extraction with the cryolite.
Re: Ideas needed for museum displays.
April 15, 2012 06:50AM
Some excellent points here especially that of Paul regarding the "what use is it?"

Other considerations: Lighting needs to be nothing but Excellent! This not only on the minerals but light where you walk as well. Some displays light up only the minerals and keep you in the dark apparently hoping you would look at the minerals rather than the floor. Museums are not supposed to make you yawn.

Labels in front of the minerals and not on a directory on the side!

In my opinion one of the best displays is at the Terra Mineralia Museum at Freiberg, Germany. Attractive display cases and enough of them at low level that can be viewed from front AND top so young kids can see the contents well, not just adults.

Interactive displays are great. At Terra Mineralia they even have microscopes available for use by visitors (guidance provided) and for those advanced enough into the science they have students from the nearby University demonstrating the use of an electron microprobe to analyze a mineral! Ralph that's when funds are not limited.

John Attard, San Diego, California.
avatar Re: Ideas needed for museum displays.
April 15, 2012 07:07AM
I have to confess to being just a tad conservative in my thinking on museum displays. To me, the systematic collection in London’s Natural History Museum – little changed, I believe, since Victorian time – is truly magnificent in concept, though I’d be the first to concede that the display cases are old-fashioned, and the lighting sub-optimal. It also saddens me to note, every time I visit, that it appears increasingly short of tender loving care, (though I should hasten to add that this is a criticism of institutional financing, and certainly NOT of the excellent and dedicated staff who maintain the display on, presumably, a shoestring budget.) Exhibits that focus on the applications of minerals, with all the attendant button-pressing, clearly have a place but not, in my view, at the expense of allowing a wide range of minerals to be exhibited for their own sake.

For many years I was truly concerned about the death spiral that seemed to be sucking in more and more of the traditional mineral displays around the world, and their replacement (if any) with more gimmicky, dumbed-down, “let’s pull in the punters” displays.

Then in 2009 I visited the newly opened mineral gallery at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) in Toronto, sponsored by Teck Resources (and, more recently I believe, by Vale-Inco as well). I was massively impressed; I have been back on two subsequent occasions and, as you know, Toronto is a long way from Melbourne! In my opinion, the ROM sets the benchmark for modern mineral displays.

Firstly, the gallery is highly educational and informative, and the visitor learns about minerals, their origins, their properties, and their uses but all in sensible proportion. Secondly, the exhibition is fun! The labelling system is interactive, so that younger button-pushing addicts will not be starved of opportunity. Thirdly, and most importantly from my perspective, there are a lot of high quality mineral specimens on show to keep serious and knowledgeable mineralogists engaged for many hours. There is no dumbing-down here; yet judging from the number of youngsters enjoying the display during my most recent visit – a December Sunday morning – the exhibits have been successfully pitched for wide appeal.

Clearly there has been a lot of money spent at the ROM, and the sponsoring companies deserve the highest praise in my opinion for what has been achieved; likewise the staff at the ROM and I had the very great pleasure of chatting to Kim Tait about this a few weeks ago in Tucson. Not all curators will enjoy such funding. Ralph, don’t know whether you’re familiar with the display at the ROM, but I would strongly suggest that it might provide some very fruitful ideas for what we all hope will be a fine mineral display in Tasmania.


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