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Intern Summer at OEC, 2013

By Ariel Rolfe, Design Intern

The Office of Exhibits Central
takes on interns throughout the year to assist in a variety of projects.
Interns gain valuable professional experience while learning about what the
Smithsonian does behind the scenes. Internships are ten weeks long, and (as of
now, mid-July) the eager interns are already halfway through their experience! This summer OEC has five interns with a
variety of backgrounds and many different skill sets:

Aliana Bailey, Safety Program Intern

Aliana is a passionate artist, in
both personal and professional realms, working in painting and graphic design.
Her paintings comment on African American culture and feminist studies, though
she is also interested in the color, movement, and texture of
non-representational paintings. (You can check out Aliana’s work here.) Aliana finds great inspiration
in learning about America’s visionaries and activists at the National Portrait
Gallery. She also lists the Hirshhorn as a favorite museum, describing it as
equally informative to her personal artwork. Her pursuit of social innovation
through visual arts led her to double-major in Social Work and Visual Arts,
specializing in Graphic Design and Painting, at North Carolina Agricultural and
Technical State University. 

At OEC, she has been working to
establish a stronger graphic identity for the safety program, “addressing human
behavior in the form of effective design solutions,” she notes. Through her
experience here and at school, she aims to use the power of art and design to
heal, educate, influence, communicate, and enhance the well-being of individuals
and communities. 


A sample of Aliana’s graphic design for the Safety Program.
Aliana working on the graphic identity of
the Safety Program.

Ariel Rolfe, Design Intern

Ariel has been enjoying the change
in pace from her hometown of Juneau, Alaska. She graduated with a degree in Art
and a minor in Construction Technology from the University of Alaska Southeast.
(You can see some of her work here.)
After school, Ariel took a two-year “break” working as a bookkeeper until
finally accepting her fate in an arts-and-humanities-minded career path. She is
currently pursuing a Master of Fine Arts in Museum Exhibition Planning &
Design at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. Ariel is fascinated with
the relationships between nature and humans, particularly how design can
enhance that relationship in a sustainable way. One of her favorite museums is
the Wagner Free Institute in
Philadelphia, which embodies mankind’s strange obsession to manage and control
nature while simultaneously deeming it fascinating and beautiful in its

Relatively new to graphic design, Ariel has been
getting lots of valuable experience at OEC creating and finalizing graphic
designs for the Hometown Teams and Beyond Bollywood exhibitions. She has
also been working on concept design for an exhibition about the history of the
Institution, called The Smithsonian: A
Story of Discovery and Wonder


Ariel next to her first SI-approved design, a schedule
for the SI Staff Picnic.

Cullen Whitmore, Graphics Intern

Cullen studies Graphic Design at
the University of Michigan School of Art & Design. Cullen is originally
from this area and will be returning to Michigan in September for his sophomore
year. While at OEC, Cullen has been assisting with printing and mounting large
exhibition panels using the press machine as well as laminating panels. Cullen
has been producing graphics for Beyond
, Hometown Teams, and
the Postal Museum. His favorite museum is the Smithsonian’s National Museum of
Natural History, which he finds interesting because of its layout and the
assortment of animals. He especially loves walking into the museum to be
welcomed by Henry, the elephant. 

Outside of his internship, Cullen
works a second job at a movie theater in addition to freelancing as a graphic
designer and illustrator. He works for bands and small organizations, creating
promotional materials such as business cards, posters, and logos. (You can see
some of his work here.)


Cullen Whitmore securing a sheet on the OEC’s new
direct-to-surface printer.

Christina Fontenelle, Model Shop Intern

Christina boasts a long list of
titles under her email signature, which include Peer Academic Advisor Leader,
Founding President for Active Minds, and President of the Association of Latin
American Students. She doesn’t let anything hold her back, including being
half-deaf. She knows not only English and American Sign Language but also
Spanish. Christina is working on three Bachelor’s degrees at Illinois State
University—Painting, Psychology, and Art History—and aims to become an art
therapist. Last year she received a scholarship through her school allowing her
to intern at the Smithsonian Institution for the summer.

In the OEC model shop, Christina
has been working hands-on, fabricating components for Hometown Teams. Watch the short video to see how Christina has set
up a jig so that she can accurately and smoothly drill holes in an interactive
section of the exhibition.

Outside of OEC, Christina helps
with other SI events and at museums on the Mall. Her favorite exhibition is of Nam
June Paik’s work at the American Art Museum
. She loves how the artist
“broke down barriers” using television screens to fill up entire walls of the


Christina Fontenelle set up this jig to secure the
“speech bubble” panels for Hometown Teams, allowing
for consistently accurate drilling to attach the
mounting hardware.


Watch this video to see how Christina uses the jig to drill
holes for some of the exhibition interactive panels.


Matthew Callahan, Model and Fabrication Shop Intern

If Matthew weren’t interning at OEC, you’d probably have to search out the
nearest circus to find him. He’s a juggler and rides a unicycle when not
working at OEC. He also does freelance design work and is scheming about what
to do after the summer. Matthew recently graduated from the Washington
University in St. Louis with a degree in Sculpture. At OEC he’s been working in
the model and fabrication shop, assisting
with the installation of Q?rius, a
new interactive and experimental environment set to open this fall at the
National Museum of Natural History (NMNH). At NMNH he has been fabricating
brass mounts for the show.

A loyal Smithsonian fan, Matthew
likes a lot of the Smithsonian museums, especially NMNH, Air & Space, and
the Hirshhorn. Matthew enjoys the incredible collections and impressive
exhibitions that all three museums host.

6_ Matthew_Beetle

Matthew takes a break to play with this specimen before mounting it in the exhibition.
7_Matthew mount

Here Matthew positions a lobster in the mounts he had
just fabricated.

OEC at the Staff Picnic in Rain and Shine

Undeterred by intermittent showers, OEC staff shared their work with the greater Smithsonian
community. It was a chance to connect with other exhibit and museum
professionals. Even the Secretary stopped by to say hi.


SI picnic Image 1

The OEC Model Shop showcased the ability of its 3D scanning and printing technology with a range of
3D-printed models.


SI picnic Image 2

OEC brought an assortment of low-tech interactive exhibits to talk about exhibition design and fabrication. The mailbox in the foreground allowed visitors to read historic postcards for the exhibit Mail Call.



SI picnic Image 3

The OEC Graphics Shop featured the capabilities of its direct-to-surface printer, which can print on a wide variety of substrates, including acrylic, metal, corrugated plastic, MDF panel, and seat cushion (all pictured).


SI picnic Image 4

Jia-Sun Tsang, of the Smithsonian’s Museum Conservation Institute, discusses the green conservation-grade exhibit cases that were developed in partnership with OEC.


Learn about OEC’s projects and capabilities at the Smithsonian Staff Picnic on July 2

What has OEC been up to lately?

Come find out:

  • Watch a 3D printing demonstration
  • Check out the capabilities of our new
    direct-to-surface printer
  • Try out traveling exhibit interactives
  • Learn about new sustainable and affordable
    conservation-grade casework, developed in partnership with the Museum
    Conservation Institute

We will be located in the PEEPS Tent by the
Smithsonian Metro Station.
PEEPS mission is Promoting Excellence
among Exhibit Professionals at the Smithsonian
, and the tent will showcase a
range of Smithsonian exhibits and projects.

Hope to see you next week at the SI Staff Picnic!

All Smithsonian staff and members of the public are

An Indoor Tree for Orchids of Latin America

A lifelike Banyan tree recalls the tropical rainforest
at the National Museum of Natural History.

of Latin America
(Natural History, January 26-April 21, 2013) explored
the crossroads of botany, horticulture, and culture. Exhibit planners wanted to
transport visitors to the tropical rainforest, so they requested a dramatic Banyan
tree sculpture at the exhibit entrance to evoke the orchids' lush habitat. Orchids has since closed, but the tree
remains at NMNH.

Designing, making, and installing a life-sized
tropical tree required careful planning by OEC’s Model Shop. The tree was made
in sections to allow for transport and delivery through the hallways at NMNH.

Modelmakers began by building
a welded armature trunk with removable branches. They then applied fire-rated urethane
foam and carved it into shape. Next, trunk and branches were coated with a
water-based, pliable material that would hold a texture and harden. Modelmakers
sculpted strangler fig vines on top of the trunk, and stained both with color. The
entire structure was transported to NMNH, where modelmakers attached branches,
adjusted leaves, and painted the surface to make the Banyan tree appear a
seamless whole.


Banyan tree model covered with foam

The tree’s metal armature skeleton is covered with blocks of urethane foam.
Taking a mold of tree bark

Modelmakers Erin Mahoney and Megan Dattoria make a mold of living tree bark at the Kogod Courtyard.
Painted Banyan trunk

The painted Banyan trunk with strangler fig vines.

The completed Banyan tree greets visitors at NMNH.

Time and Navigation and a Dog

When the National Air and Space
Museum needed a very special dog,
they turned to OEC’s Model Shop.

In 1839, Charles Wilkes led the
U.S. Exploring Expedition into Antarctic waters, accompanied by a large
Newfoundland named Sydney. For the exhibition “Time and Navigation: The Untold
Story of Getting from Here to There
,” NASM planned a diorama of Wilkes’s cabin.
Naturally they wanted to include Sydney.

NASM asked the Model Shop for a
sculpture, to be based on Sir Edwin Landseer’s 1831 dog painting A Distinguished Member of the Humane Society.
(Fun fact: This breed of black and white Newfoundland is now called Landseer
Newfoundland, after the painting.)

OEC modelmakers began with an
armature of wire and Styrofoam. Lora Collins (Model Shop supervisor and chief
sculptor) then piled on the clay and sculpted a lifelike, full-scale dog
portrait. When the sculpture is done, modelmaker Chris Hollshwander will make a
mold of the piece in silicone rubber. The mold will then go to a metal foundry,
and a bronze cast of Sydney will be produced, finished with a black and white
patina to match the coloring of the breed.



Stage 1: A basic dog shape in foam and wire. On the wall,
a print of Landseer’s A Distinguished Member of the Humane Society serves as a model, along with photos of less famous Newfoundlands.



Stage 2: With clay applied over the wire armature, the sculpture starts to look more realistic.


Modelmaker Carolyn Thome (right) brought in her dog for a day of live modeling. Not the same breed, but her presence helped Lora to give life to the figure. In the background, Lora Collins and Erin Mahoney.


Stage 3: Sculptor Lora Collins adds detail.



Lora Collins works on a paw. As details of fur and expression are added, Sydney’s personality emerges


Ready for the mold

Ready for his close-up! The clay model is finished and all set for mold-making.


“The Art of Video Games” Genre Kiosks

Based upon gameplay interaction, in their current exhibit “The Art of Video Games” the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) divided content into four Genres:  Action, Target, Adventure, and Tactics.  This taxonomy pretty much summarizes our Fabrication Unit process on the project.


In July 2011 OEC contracted with SAAM to prototype, then build, twenty Genre Kiosks for the traveling exhibition “The Art of Video Games.”  These brightly colored consoles house audiovisual programs tracing the evolution of video-game art.

After prototype approval in late September 2011, production proceeded apace through the December doldrums to delivery in February 2012. The exhibit opened the following month to record crowds at the Donald W. Reynolds Center (DWRC), where it will remain until a national tour begins in October 2012. 


Collaborating with SAAM Visual Information Specialist David Gleeson, OEC refined the original drawings, distilling a construction package that lent itself to heavy use of our Onsrud CNC Panel Router. Under the tutelage of Adam Bradshaw, project lead fabricator and taskmaster (in the best sense of this term), much of the detailing was crafted by Bassem Shaaban, a gifted summer intern and recent Howard University graduate whom we eventually hired to build the prototype. The job represented our first significant in-house CNC production run of exhibit casework.



Fresh from the Onsrud CNC Panel Router, a Genre Kiosk body bottom awaits assembly. 
Photo Courtesy of SAAM.
3-IMG_7476 (2)

Harry prepares a Duratrans image frame for painting.
Photo courtesy of Carolyn Thome.



To build the Kiosks, we moved boldly into unfamiliar territory. After some experimentation with a cold metal finish on the gray Kiosk bodies, OEC opted for a pre-catalyzed waterborne lacquer system, a durable, if finicky, alternative to our traditional acrylic latex paint. Here the assistance of volunteer Bobby McCusker, who is familiar with auto body work in his other life, and Michael Arndt, our capable Department of Veterans Affairs NPWE trainee, was critical. To date we are pleased with the lacquer’s performance.       

The_Art_of_Video_Games_013 (3)

Michael fashions Duratrans image attachment clips.
Photo Courtesy of Carolyn Thome.

Adam sprays the pre-catalyzed lacquer finish.
Photo courtesy of Carolyn Thome.

We also were adventurous (for us) in our selection of assembly hardware, deciding, for example, to pair racing latches with routed HDPE locator cones in affixing top to bottom Kiosk body sections.

And the project included some audiovisual electronic assembly, unusual work for OEC.  With guidance in gear selection from an outside contractor, and benefiting from Adam’s US Holocaust Memorial Museum experience, we negotiated this challenge successfully.

IMG_7609 (2)

Bobby and David assemble Kiosks.
Photo courtesy of Carolyn Thome.


Like most SI exhibit shops, OEC is learning to work efficiently with reduced permanent staff. To compensate on this SAAM project, we depended upon rapid, relentless parts fabrication by the Onsrud CNC Router, the in-house cooperation of our Fabrication and Model Making Units, and (as already noted) beaucoup hours of clever contributions from interns/volunteers. This effort seems to have borne fruit; OEC recently contracted with SAAM to build the Archive Wall for a Nam June Paik exhibit opening at DWRC in December 2012.


The exhibit opens. Photo courtesy of SAAM.

Written by Robert Perantoni
Edited by Rosemary Regan


“As We Grow: Toys, Games, Traditions” at NMAI

by Rosemary Regan, OEC exhibits editor


Editing usually involves working on someone else’s writing, but with this project I had the fun of writing an exhibit from scratch.

NMAI had decided to put a new exhibit in its “Windows on Collections” cases. The nine cases had previously held beadwork, but since they were located near the children’s activity center, it was decided that a display of toys, games, and beautifully sewn children’s clothing would be more appropriate. Curator Mary Jane Lenz would select the pieces and provide the themes. I was asked to write the words.

The objects come from Native communities all over North and South America, and they range from dolls to lacrosse sticks and “snowsnakes” (a type of javelin-throwing game) to a baby’s embroidered parka. One area was set aside for more grown-up games — games of skill and traditional games of chance, like the “hand game” that Native peoples have played for centuries across North America.

I drafted a few short, simple, kid-friendly texts on the show’s main themes (Clothed in Tradition, Learning by Playing, Games Bring Us Together). Then I got to see the selected objects at NMAI’s Cultural Resource Center. Whenever I was baffled by an object — every kid has played with toy dishes, but how do you play with a toy manioc squeezer from Suriname? — Mary Jane would fill me in, or point me to another expert, and from that I would draft a short label. I also did a little book- and Web-based research on such arcane subjects as elk teeth (used for decoration), the history of Apache playing cards, and the refinements of throwing a snowsnake.

This project has been play for me.


Bracketing Snowboards Isn’t Easy

A new case display about snowboarding opened up at the National Museum of American History this month. The exhibit briefly traces the history/evolution of the snowboard from its beginning to current style. Objects on display in the Snowboard Exhibit include Shaun White's Snowboard and Snowboarding outfit (Coat and Pants), a pair of Hannah Teter's boots, and examples of early snowboards, known as "Snurfer's".

Senior model maker Jon Zastrow was called on by the NMAH exhibit team to fabricate brackets for the snowboards on display. He devised an ingenious bracket that is adjustable on three axes of rotation, which greatly simplified the process of tweaking the the object's positioning during the install. This was particularly important because Jon didn't have access to the snowboards until he went on site.

Prototype Bracket-IMG_6741-reduced

Above: Prototype bracket

Although this exhibit consists of only one case, the success of the installation required fast response and effective collaboration between American History's team and OEC, due to a very tight deadline. The results speak for the high quality of each team member's contribution.

The Snowboard Exhibit is on the 1st floor on the American History Museum (Constitution Ave. Entrance) in the Far Right corner (Near the gift Shop) and will be on display at least through Winter 2013.



Above: The final installation 

Secretary Clough Comes to OEC

Secretary Wayne Clough paid a visit to OEC last week to view the production process of the latest Museum on Main Street exhibit: The Way We Worked.  The exhibit was developed by MoMS and is based on a collection of photographs from the National Archives. The Way We Worked takes a close look at the important role work plays in American lives and how our workforce has changed over time.  Five copies of the exhibit were produced at OEC and began shipping out to small towns across America at the end of August.

Being from a small town himself, the Secretary spoke about how important cultural programing like traveling exhibitions are for rural Americans. He also mentioned how impressed he was with OEC’s handiwork. It was a pleasure to share our work with the Secretary and an exciting way to wrap up the production of another terrific MoMS exhibit. 


Robbie Davis of MoMS assembles TWWW in preparation for the Secretary's visit. 

Secretary Clough viewing TWWW.


Secretary Clough poses for a photo at the entrance of TWWW.


Secretary Clough talking with modelmakers Jon Zastrow and Danny Feilding about the fabrication process of TWWW.