A few years ago I researched and wrote a script for an exhibition for the Eagles Mere Museum, in a small town near Williamsport, PA. It was settled by a glassmaker in the late 18th century, and became a famous resort destination during the Victorian era. Today it’s as unspoiled as ever, with the beautiful “cottages” (many of them 8+ bedrooms) surrounding the perfectly preserved lake. I went back to take a look at the museum now that it’s open, and was pleased to run into the husband-and-wife team of historians who advised me on the project (Barbara and Bush James, longtime Eagles Mere summer residents and authors of Mere Reflections: A Unique Journey through Historic Eagles Mere, 1988). I was thrilled to learn that the exhibition we created had over 11,000 visitors in 2008—up from 400 per year in its previous location—a former chapel.
The location is much better, for sure, at the center of the small village, alongside new retail space. But the exhibition itself is also far superior—it tells the story of this place and shows off the highlights of the extensive collection. Whereas before there were dozens of objects filling cases from floor to ceiling, with very few labels and almost no interpretation, we strived to organize and prioritize the images and objects in order to tell a compelling story. Without the funds for expensive computer interactives, the exhibition relies on historic photography, objects, and traditional text panels to educate and engage its visitors. It goes to show it’s not a big budget that makes for a satisfying museum experience. You can learn a lot, even just from reading the headlines and a few captions. Well worth a visit.
Here’s what Therese Boyd, writer for the Harrisburg Patriot-News, had to say:
“The [Eagles Mere] museum does justice [to the town’s] rich history . . . natural areas and historic architecture. . . . This is one of the best small museums I’ve ever seen. In materials and presentation, in choice of artifacts and interactive displays, the entire museum experience is outstanding.”
A glimpse of a facial expression conveys volumes. This is one of my favorite photographs. It’s William Faulkner in 1962, with Eudora Welty in the background, when she presented him with the Gold Medal for Fiction at the National Institute of Arts and Letters, in New York.
I came across this photograph and dozens like it when I was doing research on Faulkner for a master planning project for the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) in Oxford. The museum wanted to find a way to honor one of its most distinguished alumni and longtime Oxford resident, and we devised a thematic approach to make his life, his writings, and his genius accessible to museumgoers.
(The museum also oversees Rowan Oak, the historic site that was Faulkner’s home for many decades, which happens to be a short walk through the woods from the museum. Read more about this amazing site in this New York Times article, or more about my involvement with the related landscape planning project.)
The prestigious Cardiac Program of Penn Presbyterian Hospital in Philadelphia wanted to take advantage of a wall in the lobby of its new building to showcase the pioneering achievements and technological advances that were unique to the hospital. Alison started from scratch by reviewing historic documents and photography at the University of Pennsylvania Archives and devised an interpretive approach based on the strengths and highlights of this archival collection. Interpretive scripting and layout followed, to play up the research, clinical, as well as educational aspects of this cutting-edge program.
It was a fun to help the Philadelphia Zoo develop an exhibit commemorating its 150th anniversary. I worked with curators and other zoo staff members on panels for a special exhibition about how America’s first zoo paved the way and contributes research as well as opportunities for entertainment and engagement with these glorious animals of all stripes.
The design team created a series of markers around the zoo provided opportunities to interpret historic buildings as well as fun facts about its role in the community as well as the animals who have lived there.