I love creating and hanging exhibits. It satisfies my former art teacher-self while challenging my current archivist-self. So, when the Exchange Place Living History Farm invited me to create the first archival exhibit for their new museum, I said “Let’s do this,” followed by, “Yikes!”
For the past two months, I’ve been spending time in this restored log house; combing through a semi-processed archives in the upper room, touring the buildings on site for hidden treasures, researching in the City Archives, and writing about, framing for, and designing the layout of the main floor museum spaces.
Here’s an idea of what my work life looked like:
There are also talkative pigs nearby. You can read more about the rest of the menagerie at Exchange Place here.
Here is the main garden that is located behind the spring house and smokehouse. This area will be bustling on April 29-30, 2017, during the Exchange Place Spring Garden Fair.
Finally, here is Roseland. Like the Gaines-Anderson cabin, it was brought to the site and restored (in the early 1990s). I went in and out of this house everyday and even found quite a few items for the exhibit in the attics.
The museum committee had already purchased two display cases and had a wall hanging system installed in the two museum rooms. Here’s how things looked when I arrived.
I decided that the right room, with the modern insertion of the staircase, should showcase the efforts of the Exchange Place volunteers and the residents of those homes that have been moved to the site.
I spent the first three weeks going through the filing cabinets to become familiar with the organization’s records, exploring the family collections in the archival boxes, researching at the city archives, and trying to figure out the complicated Gaines genealogy. The next 3-4 weeks I spent writing narrative boards for the walls, selecting items for display, and writing captions for those items.
The exhibit was installed over two days in early April with the help of my archival partner-in-crime Brianne Wright. After a week off, I returned to make adjustments. Here is a little glimpse into the finished project.
The narrative boards are 18″ x 28.” I had to learn how to use Microsoft Publisher to create the layouts. I selected a matte finish paper to complement the log walls. The printer mounted and cut the boards for me, which was so helpful.
This narrative tells the story of John Preston, who traded his Holston Springs, VA property for John Gaines’ Exchange Place in 1845. Mr. Preston deeded the farm, as seen at left, to his son James and his wife Catherine in 1850.
Here’s that cozy corner featuring a walking wheel, which is part of Exchange Place’s vast collection of period spinning and weaving items. The watercolor above the mantle is one of five artworks featured in the exhibit inspired by the history of the area.
With five pieces to frame, I had to be as frugal as possible. The pre-assembled frame I purchased below was the right size, but the wood was too yellow for the piece. I took it apart and treated it with an espresso stain. Once dry, I applied two coats of paste wax and polished it. Next, I had a mat cut for it and then re-assembled everything and added eye-hooks to the back. The detail artist Georgia Blanchard devoted to the buildings in this scene gives an enchanting effect.
I had never used a below eye-level, multi-tiered case before. I learned that the top shelf items need to be set back and spaced further apart than the items on the bottom shelf.
For most of one day, I spent my time in one of two attitudes:
I’m sure the process looked fascinating (not). Fortunately for me, I really enjoy this aspect of my work. On to the next room!
The museum is named after Dick and Suzanne Burow, long-time volunteers at The Exchange Place. This narrative board, featuring fond memories written by friends and family, is paired with a Tennessee State House Resolution made in Suzanne’s honor.
I wanted to safely display the Cross and Crown replica quilt, so Ron Russom crafted this wonderful stand for the period headboard for me. It keeps visitors at a no-touch distance while adding some aesthetically pleasing context.
For a virtual tour of the museum, you can watch my videos here and here. If you are local and want to learn more about the history of the farm and its residents, The Exchange Place is open Saturdays and Sundays from 2-4:30 pm, May through October, and for group tours by appointment.