How are you connected to the Montshire?
I'm the Exhibits Director. I'm in charge of our permanent and temporary exhibits, live animals, Science Park, and the trails and exhibit experiences on our 100-acre landscape. My department is also responsible for the design and fabrication of signage and exhibit labels at the Museum. There are four of us in the exhibits department.
Why do you choose to be involved?
Working at the Montshire means that I can (if I do my job well) make a positive difference for lots of visitors in many ways. When a mom and her daughter sit at the Botanical Investigations exhibit and talk about how to spot Poison Ivy in the woods, when fourth-graders try to figure out why their disks spin on the Spin Table, or when two adults walk along the River Loop trail and spend time learning about migratory birds traveling along the river valley— these are small events which can, combined over time, make a big impact on visitors and their understanding of science and the natural world.
When was the first time you came to the Montshire?
In 1989, just before the Museum opened in Norwich. Joan Waltermire (my predecessor as Exhibits Director) asked me to help with the fabrication of a couple of exhibit pieces for the Museum opening, and I've been here, on and off, ever since. I like to think that I remember visiting the Museum when it was in the bowling alley in Hanover, but I may be making that up.
What is your favorite Montshire experience?
When we were preparing to begin work on Science Park, we spent a couple of weeks outside prototyping exhibits about water—water that flowed, water that sprayed, water that shot out of hoses. Not all of what we prototyped ended up in the final set of Science Park exhibits, but it sure was fun trying out all sorts of funny and interesting things to do with water.
What do you wish everyone knew about the Museum?
We try really hard to make everything seem "just right" to visitors when they are here—that is the result of making zillions of decisions about the 'look and feel' of the Museum and exhibits, how best to keep the building clean and working properly, how to make signs and exhibit labels that are visually pleasing and understandable to all visitors, how to greet visitors to help them to feel like they're part of the Montshire…
Things feel "just right" at the Montshire because of the shared vision the staff and trustees have about what the museum experience should be like, and how to make visitors feel welcome and engaged.
The current exhibition is How People Make Things—how does an exhibit like that come to the Montshire?
We begin planning for most of the exhibitions that we bring here at least two years before they arrive. We learned about How People Make Things, which was created by the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh, a little over two years ago and began researching it. We signed the contract to host it after we determined that it would be a good fit for our visitors, the exhibits budget, our exhibit schedule, and the size of the gallery. Over the last 18 months we've been tackling the details of the installation as the opening date drew ever closer. (What's the best way to store the crates while the exhibition is here? Should we put some of the exhibits on the first floor? Do we have to add power outlets in the right places for the specialized machinery that is part of the exhibition? What decisions about the installation does the rest of the staff need to be involved in?) Finally, two semi-tractor-trailers with 53 crates arrived on a cold February day, they were unloaded, and exhibits and maintenance staff and volunteers spent about a week and a half in the gallery uncrating, assembling, testing, and adjusting all of the components. And then the exhibition opened.
What do you think the Montshire will be like in ten years?
We'll have a greater selection of exhibits in our permanent collection that we will be able to change in and out. There will be much more to engage visitors out on the trails. In the Quinn Preserve, and along the Connecticut River, we're working hard right now on new opportunities to enhance the outdoor experience. Despite these changes, I'm sure it will still be the same friendly place for a family, or a school group, or a couple of adults to spend time with each other, engaging with science and technology, and the natural world.
What is your favorite Montshire story to tell?
When we were developing the AirPlay exhibition, we were trying out an idea for an exhibit module where you could balance a foam rubber ball on a stream of air. We set it up as a prototype in the gallery, and within a couple of minutes there was a line of visitors waiting to try it out. We knew we were on to something! That module turned into the Ball Floaters exhibit—and we solved the line-of-visitors "problem" by including four modules in that one exhibit.
Which other museums have made an impression on you?
My parents used to take our family to the Peabody Museum in New Haven, CT, when we were kids, and the memory of those visits has remained special to me to this day. The dinosaurs were as big as our house! It knocks me out to think that I now have the opportunity to make that kind of impression on young visitors at the Montshire.