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Ideas needed for museum displays.

Posted by Ralph Bottrill  
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Ralph Bottrill April 14, 2012 04:56AM
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 (!)

Regards,
Ralph
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Ralph Bottrill April 14, 2012 07:58AM
Of course if money was really no object I would start with a personal fact finding tour of world museums!

Regards,
Ralph
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Bob Harman April 14, 2012 10:55AM
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
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Earl Verbeek April 14, 2012 11:49AM
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.
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Steve Sorrell April 14, 2012 12:19PM
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!

Regards
Steve
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Michael Croxell April 14, 2012 01:53PM
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
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Frank Ruehlicke April 14, 2012 03:11PM
Ralph,
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.
Cheers,
-Frank
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Uwe Kolitsch April 14, 2012 06:20PM
Ralph, have sent you some info (photos) via email.
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Robert Rothenberg April 14, 2012 06:27PM
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.

Bob
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Dean Allum April 14, 2012 06:50PM
Ralph,
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.

-regards,
Dean Allum
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Darren Court April 14, 2012 07:15PM
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!

Darren
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Paul De Bondt April 14, 2012 09:39PM
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.

Paul.
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Darren Court April 14, 2012 10:14PM
Wonderful ideas, Paul!
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Steven Kuitems April 15, 2012 02:13AM
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.

Steve.
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Jenna Mast April 15, 2012 02:20AM
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.
Meteorites.
Radioactive minerals with cloud chamber and GM counter.

Geology related:
A liquefaction demonstration.

Weather:
Tornado chamber.
Lightening chamber.
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Stephanie Martin April 15, 2012 02:37AM
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!

regards,
stephaniesmiling smiley
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John Kirtz April 15, 2012 04:28AM
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.
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Jenna Mast April 15, 2012 05:32AM
John:

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.
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John Attard April 15, 2012 05:50AM
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.
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Malcolm Southwood April 15, 2012 06:07AM
Ralph,
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.

Cheers
mal
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Knut Eldjarn April 15, 2012 08:10AM
Ralph,

lots of great ideas from other contributors. I have a suggestion which could be combined with any of them. Museums are often visited by families and there may be conflicting interests. Many of the interactive and colourful displays will attract people of any age and level of knowledge. But it may be a challenge to "entertain" the youngest if the parents (or grandparents) want to look at the systematic or educational displays. In the museum at Setesdalen Mineral Park in Norway they have small stone dinosaures hidden in the different cabinets and every child is offered a map of all the displays and a pencil to mark where they discovered the dinosaures. They receieve a prize (a colorfull mineral specimen i.e. a pyrite crystal) when they have located all of them. In my experience this made it possible for generations with different attention spans to enjoy the cabinets at the same pace. It also opened up for discussions like: "maybe you will find it behind that large, blue fluorite - or maybe close to another fluorite specimen" - do you see any specimen with a quartz crystal here - maybe the dinosaur is there ? etc.

In general people are very interested in where the minerals come from and what they are used for (as stated by Paul). At Terra Mineralia they have a projection on the wall of a rotating globe and it is possible to select from a list a famous mineral locality and push a button. With Google Earth you zoom down on that locality and switches to a film showing the mine entrance, the journey down in the dark, how the mining is perfomed and how cavities with minerals are exposed. Exceptional specimens from some of these localities where displayed in cabinets close by.
At a Canadian museum I visited many years ago they had a large, old carriage from a mine lift where 8 or 10 visitors at a time had to put on helmets, enter the carriage, push putton - and then experiences noises and movement as if they travelled far down into a mine. Opening a second door they entered a poorly lit mine tunnel with cavities showing minerals, pictures or short films showing the mining operation and then entering a mine assayers office showing examples of ores, test equipment etc. If there should be room for such an installation somewhere at the Tasmanian museum, parts of your proud mining heritage could be visualized in this way.

I think the main challenge for museums wanting to display minerals in the 21st century is how to capture, entertain and educate different generations and people with different backgrounds and limited interests in minerals as objects or in systematic mineralogy. In general the role of museums have changed dramatically following the general access to the web. In this century probably the hundreds of thousands of objects preserved in museum collection (of all kinds) could be made available to any virtual visitor with a rotating 3-D image and any set of information about the specimen, its origin and with links to scientific papers, locality information, historic information etc. - surpassing what the viewer can obtain from even the best lit and labelled display cabinet in todays museums. With such resources in place, you could tour any museum from your own computer displaying any item on the large, high-resolution flatscreen in your living room or study. In the modern age of information there is less need for the 19th century style assemblages of "curiosity cabinets" with strange natural objects behind glass for people to admire. But there will still be a huge need to educate people, to make them curious and to give them the necessary background and understanding how to use such web-resources. This will require more interactive museums with more focus on contexts and perspectives than on single objects.

But of course there will allways be freaks like ourselves who will claim that nothing can compare to seeing minerals "in person". We can only hope that museums will feel an obligation to cater also for the needs of such an odd minority.

Knut



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 04/15/2012 08:17AM by Knut Eldjarn.
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Ralph Bottrill April 15, 2012 09:23AM
Wow, what a great assortment of ideas, thanks everyone! I will compile of this for management to contemplate. I must admit, Like Malcolm, to a fondness for the old systematic collections like the Natural History Museum. As a young kid that was profound at revealing the workings of nature, but I know it's not popular these days. I have not seen the ROM display, but it sounds like a must see. I like Paul's ideas especiallly, I was thinkig along these lines, but there are lots of good thoughts to consider here.

Regards,
Ralph
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Carl (Bob) Carnein April 15, 2012 02:06PM
I'd suggest integrating the mineral displays into a plate-tectonics theme. Many visitors don't have any idea how minerals relate to Earth processes. Perhaps start out with a "shaker" that demonstrates what it feels like to be in an earthquake of a particular magnitude (with settings for different magnitudes); relate that to faults and to the "ring of fire" and the plate-tectonic setting of Tasmania/Australia/New Zealand (the recent NZ earthquakes could be a theme); have a large-scale video of "black smokers", along with specimens from the sea-floor environment, etc. How about a video of a subduction zone that has settings that allow the visitor to control the speed of subduction and relate that to the angle of plunge of the subducting plate and the location of volcanism and mineral deposition on an adjacent continent? There are many ways to relate minerals to plate-tectonics setting, and I think just a few cool, interactive set-ups could get someone hooked on the subsequent mineral displays (which should be well lighted, well labeled, etc.).

Another approach (perhaps more for adults, who seem to be ignored in most museum planning nowadays) could be to look at map/photo/satellite images of an area to see how each is used to locate a mineral deposit. Start out with a satellite image taken in "normal" spectrum; then have images of the same area in false-color spectra, radar images, etc. that are computer enhanced and designed to bring out particular kinds of mineralization. Let the visitor choose suspicious areas that could then be tied into assays/chemical analyses that highlight which methods are most useful to the mining industry for exploring new areas (and maybe the mining industry could help to finance such a display). Integrate this with something about how plants and topography also give us clues to mineralization. Perhaps this could be tied into which minerals were used by the native peoples of the area, and how.

What I remember from the museums I have visited are usually the truly magnificent specimens. It's difficult to attain a balance between "too much" and "not enough", and that balance is different for each visitor. If I were designing a museum, I'd make sure there was a small area with a changing systematic collection for the serious collector/visitor, highlighting the museum's strengths and recognizing those who donated top-notch material.
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jacques jedwab April 15, 2012 03:08PM
I once printed a meter-wide periodic table, and glued in each element-pigeonhole a small mineral specimen from D.R. Congo, in order to show how richly endowed is the country (I discovered so that Congo mineralogy is missing antimony minerals).
People were most interested. I think this idea could also be very appealing if applied to Tasmanian mineralogy.

J.J.
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D Mike Reinke April 15, 2012 07:47PM
I find people are wowed by how much of the rocks they walk on are oxygen, by % volume, much more than the air they breathe. A display of atom's size in the commonest minerals might clarify how the elements make up the minerals.
Possibly a specific gravity display, a comparison of chunks of minerals w/ equal amounts of water by weight.
Just some rudimentary visuals...
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Kelly Nash April 17, 2012 11:35AM
http://www.mindat.org/forum.php?file,62,file=37887,filename=Geode_Opening.jpgThere are some good ideas here. In general, I think maybe what most of us here would like to see in a museum is not what museum administrators think (or know) will bring foot traffic of "sheeple" through the museum. I had an opportunity to make some sugggestions for a new museum in Dallas opening in a few months that will have a quite grand collection. I suggested they go against the currrent grain for museum displays and try to obtain a large species collection, and/or maybe have at least one area where people could look at thumbnail-sized specimens of rarities. This was met with the sound of crickets, and we're going to get big tourmalines, fluorites and rhodochrosites that the masses can ooh and ahh over. I've gotten over my dismay at that, and have seen some of the big specimens and they are indeed spectacular. One display which is kind of fun, and has been getting a lot of attention, is a split 3,700 pound amethyst geode that can be opened with a wheel (the mechanism was quite expensive). There is a counterweight that slowly closes it again when you release the wheel. Visitors that come upon it can individually get the thrill of opening up the big boulder to see the crystals inside.



Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 04/17/2012 11:39AM by Kelly Nash.
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Dean Allum April 17, 2012 06:53PM
Ralph,
Here is a website with a lot of mineral education resources, including posters. These people maintain a booth at the Denver Mineral Show which is very popular with the kids.

http://www.mii.org/

http://www.mii.org/pdfs/demonstrations.pdf


At least 3 museums in Colorado have simulated mine tunnels displays with rich matrix rock containing in-situ specimens.

Regards, Dean Allum
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Ralph Bottrill April 17, 2012 09:06PM
More really good ideas thanks everyone. The trick now is going to be compiling all this and presenting it to management In a simple manner.

Regards,
Ralph
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Ralph Bottrill April 24, 2012 11:53PM
Preliminary discussions are not encouraging. They are talking about a Wunderkammer, with a random assortment of pretty minerals and fossils. I said they may as well put it in the art gallery or get a kaleidoscope - if there is no theme or interpretation there is just a riot of form and colour that will only engage people for a minute and give them nothing to go away and think about. And only a tiny budget of course. But another more formal meeting next week, hopefully we can get something better.

Regards,
Ralph
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Paul De Bondt April 25, 2012 08:43AM
Thanks for the feedback Ralph.

I hope you will be able to pull an " interesting for everybody " exhibit ashore.

Take care and best regards.

Paul.
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Bob Harman April 25, 2012 11:34AM
RALPH, Mine was the first response to your original blog. So it is not surprising to read your followup. Firstly museums today are largely on a shoestring budget and that is not likely to change. The politicians overseeing these projects want to get the best bang for their available bucks. Then there is the change of philosophy as I originally mentioned. The folks putting the meager funds into these projects want to make the exhibits most interesting to the general non-rock collecting public whose only real interest in minerals is how we use them in everyday life from jewelry thru industry to everyday products. The interactive exhibits will largely be "dumbed down" to families with kids and (uninterested?) teenagers. Exhibits that we collectors like to see.......well lit case after case after case of wonderful minerals with labels of their names, locations and mines, and chemical formulas will, sadly by and large, be considered boring and make up only a small minority of space in any new and redesigned exhibits. Unfortunately, these are todays facts!



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 04/25/2012 12:22PM by BOB HARMAN.
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