Our very own Carolyn Thome will be giving a presentation at the National Museum of Natural History tomorrow. She will be talking about the various techniques used to recreate artifacts including casting and 3D printing. Don't miss it!
The Office of Exhibits Central (OEC) has been collaborating with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) on the creation of a bronze sculpture for inclusion in one of the museum’s upcoming exhibits. When completed, the sculpture will resemble boulder-size rocks on which visitors can sit, allowing them to interact with the surrounding sculptural tableau. Achieving a final result that closely resembled nature was a critical component of the work, which OEC model maker, Adam Metallo, accomplished with great success.
From the onset, the project was discussed extensively among the curator and project manager at NMNH; OEC’s model making team which included Adam Metallo, Natalie Gallelli, and Vincent Rossi; and the artist who will be undertaking the other sections of the tableau. Before the initial meeting, Metallo–an accomplished sculptor–conducted research on rocks in order to study a variety of textures, shapes, and sizes so that he could produce a generic model that was not geographically specific. His research was used to help Gallelli produce a small maquette, which Metallo and Gallelli took with them to the introductory meeting with NMNH staff. Once the maquette had been approved, Metallo was able to begin finalizing the sculpture’s details.
First, the outlines of the entire tableau were drawn on the floor. Then, the model making team used a variety of props to establish the proper height, width, and depth for the rock seating which needed to comfortably accommodate two adults, and be in proportion to the rest of the sculptural grouping. Once the dimensions and orientation of the seating had been determined, the next step in the process was to make a 3-D rendering of it in CAD software, which was subsequently printed out at full size to ensure that the sculpture was exactly as Metallo wanted it to be.
Metallo then glued 4″ thick strips of foam together to make a large block. He used electric hot knives and wire cutters to sculpt the basic shape of the rock; the fine detail was completed with butcher knives, hot knives, and sandpaper. Once the sculpting was finished, Metallo smoothed the surface of the foam with a heat gun which slightly melted the exterior, in order to remove the knife marks. Lastly, the foam was sprayed with plaster using a cup gun to give it a stone-like appearance.
A bronze casting of the model will be produced at a nearby foundry, and the touchable rock seating will be installed at the museum. As Metallo observed, “It is quite exciting and gratifying to be able to create something that will be on display at NMNH for many years to come. I am also pleased by the fact that visitors will be able to interact with it, enjoy it as a sculpture, as rock seating, and as part of an important exhibit.”
Written by Antonia Harbin.
photo 1: Adam Metallo–The rock seating model.
photo 2: Adam Metallo–Vincent Rossi, Carolyn Thome, and intern Matthew
Davis determine the appropriate height, width, depth, and
orientation of the rock seating.
photo 3: Antonia Harbin–The rock seating model.
OEC’s Model Shop is working on two components for the National Museum of Natural History’s new exhibition, Dig It!: The Secrets of Soil — a topographic model showing the layers of soil under the surface and how they affect the land on which we live, and a cast of a tree trunk for the entrance portal of the exhibition.
As an editor, my work is pretty solitary and quiet. I am always amazed and a bit envious when I go back into the shops and see how the people in Fabrication and Model Shop have to work so closely together and how much daily collaboration and communication is needed to just get the job done — and done well.
The time-lapse video below is an extreme example as almost everyone in the shop lent a hand in putting together the fiberglass and rubber mold for the tree trunk cast.
Dig It!: The Secrets of Soil opens July 19.
More photos of the production of the topographical map and tree cast.
There are so many things happening in the shops right now that it is difficult to write about just one project! Instead, I have posted some new pictures in the photo album for your enjoyment.
A team from the Fabrication and Model Shops have been installing the tri-motor airplane vignette for the new America by Air exhibit, opening at the National Air and Space Museum later this year.
Modelmaker Natalie Gallelli has been hard at work finishing the mannequins for that exhibit as well. Here she is posing with an airline attendant modeled from herself. In addition to sculpting and molding body parts for the mannequins, Natalie made all the clothing they wear.
And here is Jon Zastrow, one of OEC’s resident CNC router experts! The CNC (computer-numeric controlled) router makes producing multiple copies of intricately designed pieces much easier and more efficient.
Earlier this month, a Giant Japanese spider crab (Macrochera kaempferi) was donated to OEC by Izu Chuo Aqua Trading Co.,Ltd. OEC modelmaker Vince Rossi was searching for a large, intact specimen to use as a model for making a reproduction to hang in the National Museum of Natural History’s new Ocean Hall, which opens next year. Initially, Rossi thought he would have to use photographs for reference and sculpt the crab model by hand. “Sculpting takes more time and is more expensive,” said Rossi, “so I began searching for a specimen I could use as a mold. I didn’t think we would be this lucky.”
As luck would have it, he found the perfect specimen half way around the world. The giant Japanese spider crab can grow up to 3.5 to 4 meters long with their front legs and claws outstretched. But crabs of this size are rare and live about 2,000 feet under sea level. The specimen that Rossi found was 2.5 meters long, which is still a considerable size.
NMNH scientists are also excited about the donation. Smithsonian only has one specimen of this species in its collection, and its condition was never as good as this one. Dr. Rafael Lamaitre, chair of NMNH’s Invertebrate Zoology department, along with Cheryl Bright, collection manager for the same department, took samples of the crab’s flesh to freeze for future molecular DNA studies. They also documented the specimen for inclusion in NMNH’s collection.
After OEC has finished using the specimen to make the reproduction for the Ocean exhibit, it will go to the National Zoological Park, where flesh-eating beetles will clean all the soft tissue from the specimen, leaving only the hard exoskeleton. The specimen will then be moved to NMNH’s collections facility in Suitland, Maryland.
OEC modelmakers will be making other reproductions for the Ocean Hall, including an oarfish and a sunfish.
top photo: Vince Rossi positions the giant crab to tag each part before molding.
bottom photo: Dr. Rafael Lamaitre takes a sample from the giant crab.
Work continues on the Museum on Main Street (MoMS) exhibit New Harmonies. The OEC Fabrication shop is currently working on the components for the kiosk featuring country music. There are many design features that make this kiosk visually interesting for visitors, and technically challenging for OEC staff.
Our staff had to get creative in designing and constructing the components due to some pretty strict size and weight constraints, which make the exhibit less costly to ship. Components need to be strong enough to stay together while on display, but easy to assemble and disassemble for rural museums with small staff and tight spaces. Our staff found innovative ways to customize the plain, ready-made Scenario panels used as the framework of the show. This exhibit also included sound interactives that play snippets of the different types of music featured.
SEE MORE PICTURES of OEC Fabrication at work.
photo: Rob Wilcox and Adam Metallo of Fabrication place the roofing frame on top of the Scenario panel to check the fit.
OEC began working on Orchids: Take a Walk on the Wild Side with the Smithsonian Horticulture Services Division in June 2005. Our Design and Editing department worked with staff from Horticulture Services and the Natural History Museum’s Botany Department to develop the script and design concept. Our Fabrication and Model Making shops built a walkway, panels, a “research station,” trees, vines, and even rain!
See pictures of the OEC team installing the components in the gallery space.
photo: OEC and Horticulture staff and volunteers put the finishing touches on the orchid exhibit.
On November 16, 2006, the Smithsonian Community Committee (SCC) sponsored a behind-the-scenes tour for SI staff to see the work that the Office of Exhibits Central (OEC) is doing for Horticulture Services’ upcoming exhibit, Orchids: Take a Walk on the Wild Side, which opens January 27, 2007, in the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH).
An intrepid group of about 30 employees from around the Institution braved the rainstorm to learn about how OEC’s modelmakers are creating foam tree trunks, a wooden walkway, and the didactic panels for the show. Staff also saw a variety of other projects underway, such as New Harmonies for the Museum on Main Street (MoMS), Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service; and America By Air at the National Air and Space Museum (NASM).
photo: Carolyn Thome, modelmaker, discusses how she turns a large column of fire-rated urethane foam into a tropical tree trunk for the Orchids exhibit. Photograph by David Liston, OEC.