Wednesday, September 7, 2011

GHM Exhibit Visit

"Voices" Exhibition
Upon entering the Greensboro “Voices” exhibition, your eye travels across the dramatic curved wall of illuminated photographs that create a timeline of the history of Greensboro.  The repetitive canvases that play off the shadows from the backlighting create a dynamic effect that gives the sense of Greensboro being a very important place with a rich history. The concept of separate photographs with individuals coming together to create one history creates a strong sense of unity, both in the design aspect and as a city living in harmony and paying homage to its past. Further into the “Voices” exhibit, display cases show artifacts from each of the people groups that settled in Greensboro, Germans, Jews, Quakers, and so on. This highlights the diversity rather than unity, and uses concrete objects rather than two-dimensional panels to create depth and interest.  Connecting two main exhibit spaces is a corridor with tall portraits of famous townspeople from Greensboro’s past. These portraits act as architectural elements that divide the space into smaller display areas filled with information about these people.  The panels provide rhythm and balance to an otherwise plain connector space.  The main areas of the “Voices” exhibition open up to showcase several large artifacts that become focal points of the space, such as the covered wagon in one area and the large sewing loom in another area. By placing such grand pieces against smaller displays, it creates hierarchy in the space that awes the viewer, drawing them closer to discover what the important pieces say about Greensboro’s history.

Period Rooms and Pottery Display
On the mezzanine level, period rooms show the lifestyles of some of Greensboro’s founding families, such as rooms from the Tate family home in the early 1900s.  Replicas of a bedroom, dining room, parlor etc. show how furnishings and materials have transformed over time. These rooms are all connected by a series of interior doors which not only function for museum staff who have to walk through these spaces, but make the rooms seem more realistic as if they are leading into another room in a house versus being separate compartments.  Vignettes of items such as children’s toys on the floor and a “magic” image projector and other items on a parlor table show how people spent their leisure time.  These items also give the rooms a very lived-in quality, so the viewer can envision people of this time interacting in the space.  The period rooms wrap around the exhibit space and are shown as recessed nooks off of the interior wall, which helps with circulation and creates a clear path around the pottery display.   The colorful pottery finds its identity through contrast against white display blocks and bright overhead lighting, which reflects off of the pottery glaze and draws attention to the exhibit.  The varying heights of the display blocks creates balance in the exhibit, so groupings of pottery do not compete for visual attention.  A clear glass wall surrounding the display does not subtract from the art itself, and allows the viewer to only see the pottery as they walk into the exhibit space, emphasizing its importance.

"Gate City" Exhibition
The “Gate City” exhibition takes interactivity to the next level as the visitor experiences a schoolhouse, pharmacy, fire house, theater, and phone operating booths and is able to participate in activities relevant to these locations.  The façades of these mini exhibits differentiate the type of location through use of material, such as clapboard on the schoolhouse and brick on the firehouse façade.  Because each storefront is unique, it sparks curiosity in the visitor as to what is beyond the varying entrances. Use of material on the inside of these attractions stay true to the era as well, such as dark wooden desks in the schoolhouse and antique-looking glass display cabinets in the pharmacy. Cutouts of people in the space, like the schoolteacher and pharmacist are focal points that actually teach the important information through recordings. Circulation also plays a major role in the experience of Gate City, meant to replicate a town square. The visitor is forced to move around a tree and benches in the center, which creates an illusion of being in an outdoor space. The arrangement of the attractions around this square rather than simply in a line in front of the viewer keeps the eye constantly moving and creates a more encapsulating experience.  Inside each of the “buildings” lighting plays a role, from the open schoolhouse with lots of natural looking light to a dark pharmacy and even darker theater.  The recapture of this bygone era is a charming way to show history and leaves a lasting impression on the visitor.

"Down Home" Exhibition
First walking into the “Down Home” Exhibition about Jewish life in North Carolina, you see that the exhibition as a whole is broken up into smaller display areas. In the first area, flags and other religious artifacts specific to our state are configured around the model of a synagogue, creating a circular pattern of circulation around this area and highlighting the model as a focal point. White display cases draw more attention to the artifacts themselves and do not detract from the information.  In the second area, you see a 1940-50’s style interactive kitchen with a refrigerator that visually teaches about kosher food, artificial challah bread laid on the counter with directions on how to make it, and an oven that tells a personal story of Jewish and Southern cooking when you open it. The interactivity aspect again plays as a visual and auditory learning tool and creates a memorable experience. The kitchen brings a playful quality to the exhibit, and resonates as a very Southern quality of Jewish history-- the kitchen being a symbol of the South.  In the third display area, glass cases show items such as draydels and menorahs and teach about Jewish traditions. The division of this exhibit into three distinct sections starting at the door gives the museum visitor a distinct path to follow and helps the flow of traffic through the exhibit by providing multiple options for destinations. The organization of the sections of this exhibit from the basic background of Judaism to food to traditions allows the visitor to learn the information about Jews in North Carolina in the most logical sequence, building from basic to more complex knowledge.

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