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Milkweed Plant

Recently, modelmaker Danny Fielding and intern Jessica Western helped make the milkweed bugs at the National Museum of Natural History’s Insect Zoo feel a little more at home.  Danny and Jessica used their collective expertise to create faux milkweed plants for placement in the bug’s cages to simulate their natural habitat in the offseason when the real plants are unavailable. 

To create the lifelike plant models, they combined processes of molding and casting parts of real plants as well as direct build-up using steel, epoxy putty, cotton and glue, and other materials.

For example, Danny made plaster molds of real milkweed leaves, then vac-u-formed thin sheets of plastic onto the molds conforming the plastic to shape.  To create the milkweed flower he assembled clusters of buds individually from casts of real buds. Jessica built up tapered leaf stems from wire rolled with cotton batting and glue. Jessica also hand applied hundreds of “spines” one-by one to casts of pods. Plant stems were sculpted out of epoxy putty over a steel armature. Finally all the parts were arranged, assembled to shape, and airbrushed by Danny and hand-distressed by Jessica matching the colors and character of the real plants with incredible attention to detail.

The milkweed plant models are alternately on display (and covered with bugs!) at the Insect Zoo located in the National Museum of Natural History.

IMG_1146Modelmaker Danny Fielding examining his work

IMG_1143     A plaster mold, leaf stem, unpainted leaf, and painted leaf

IMG_0698 Jessica Western hand painting natural details on the milkweed plant

Bug2 The milkweed plant installed in NMNH's insect zoo

Bug1   A Milkweed bug enjoying it's new plant

The Way We Work

The traveling exhibit The Way We Work is in full swing at OEC. The exhibit was developed by Museums on Main Street and is based on a photo show done by the National Archives. Five copies will be produced and travel to small towns across the United States telling the story of how, why and where Americans work. The entire production process will require the help of every OEC department and include graphic design, exhibit detailing, large format printing, crating, model making, and much more.

Museums on Main Street employee Terri Cobb labeling graphic panels which make up the foundation of the show. 

Graphic panels awaiting lamination

Graphic specialist Theresa Dahlman executing the printing of graphic panels


Model maker Danny Fielding creating molds of hats which will become interactive element





Uncle Beazley Has Arrived

Last Wednesday OEC welcomed a life sized fiberglass triceratops to our place of work. This dino, Uncle Beazley, currently resides at the National Zoo but will be our guest for the next few weeks.
Uncle Beazley has been in need of periodic upkeep and repairs over the many years he’s belonged to SI, and the OEC model shop has been the primary provider of these services. Instead of just patching him up again and working outside as we have always done, we wanted to utilize the new space we have here at Pennsy Drive and do a more thorough refurbishing of this dear old fiberglass beast. With LOTS of coordination and support from transportation, horticulture, the Zoo and building services, we managed to bring him over to Pennsy last week.
After he was thoroughly power washed and cleaned, we brought him into the building, which was very tricky because at 27 feet long, 9 feet wide and 9 feet high, he is at the upper limits of size for moving him around and through the hallways! Now that he is in our shop we are patching holes and cracks and we will soon apply an entirely new coat of UV and weather resistant paint. We’ll refer to early photos of him to try to match what he originally looked like. We hope to have repairs done and Uncle Beazley ready for return to the Zoo by mid March. Carolyn Thome is the model maker responsible for doing this work; and many, many others have helped make this possible!



About SIE

Smithsonian Exhibits (SIE) is an office of the Smithsonian Institution. SIE collaborates with museums and offices throughout the Institution to help them fulfill their mandates to present powerful and engaging exhibits and public programs in Washington, D.C., and across the nation.

Design – SIE’s exhibit designers are responsible for all aspects of visual presentation, from gallery configuration and case design to text panels, banners, and other graphic elements.

Editing – SIE’s exhibit editors work with exhibit designers and a curator’s preliminary ideas to develop an overall exhibition plan. By collaborating with designers and subject-matter specialists, they ensure that words, design, and artifacts work together to tell an exhibit’s story most effectively.

Graphics – These specialists produce an exhibit’s graphic elements such as text panels, labels, photo displays, and signage. Techniques include digital printing, photo mounting, archival matting and framing, vinyl lettering, banner production, computer illustration, and silk screening.

Fabrication – The staff on this team produce exhibit cases, graphic panels, and unique exhibit elements. They also offer finishing, plexiglass, and artifact handling services.

Modelmaking – SIE’s modelmakers build scientifically and historically accurate dioramas, create scale models, sculpt mannequins and craft custom brackets to support artifacts.

Project Management – Our project managers are responsible for the day-to-day management of all SIE projects—from budget control and scheduling to resource management and stakeholder communication.

Special Exhibitions Division – The staff in the Special Exhibitions Division bring in traveling exhibits from around the world and coordinate temporary exhibits with Smithsonian offices for the International Gallery.

SIE’s weblog is currently maintained by our editing staff with the help of SIE staff and interns. Our staff writer/editor until September 2008 was Angela Roberts Reeder.

Smithsonian Exhbits

Smithsonian Institution
3400 Pennsy Drive
Landover, Maryland 20785
(Tel) 301 238-2090
(Fax) 301 238-2275


Office of the Chief Information Officer wall mural

A computer-rendered image of the Smithsonian Castle is the centerpiece of a coloful new wall mural at the main entrance to OCIO's offices in Herndon, Virginia.  A recent collaboration between the Office of Exhibits Central (OEC) and the Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO), the design consists of a 4' x 8' silhouette of the Castle made up of small "0's" and "1's" representing binary computer code, which is mounted to the entryway wall.  Beneath the Castle are two rows of images of the many Smithsonian buildings, emphasizing the fact that OCIO works with all of the museums and bureaus of the Institution.

The production of the Castle silhouette was an especially interesting part of the project.  "The "0's" and "1's" were computer-cut into a very large piece of pressure-sensitive vinyl in the Graphics Shop at OEC.   All of the vinyl surrounding the characters was then removed, leaving only the "0's" and "1's" on the vinyl's backing sheet, in the shape of the Castle.  A large piece of release-tape, which was the same size as the backing sheet and coated with strong adhesive, was pressed onto the "0's" and "1's", which transferred the adhesive from the tape onto the backs of the characters.  This sandwich–comprised of release-tape, vinyl, and backing sheet–was then delivered to OCIO for installation.

OCIO 6-7-09

Design drawing for the entrance exhibit for the Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO) 


In order to ensure that the Castle silhouette would be applied to a smooth surface, OEC's painter, Walter Skinner, first primed and painted the entryway wall at OCIO.  Next, OEC's Graphics Specialists, Rolando Mayen and Theresa Keefe–who designed the exhibit–carefully applied the vinyl.  They temporarily hinged the backing sheet to the wall exactly where they wanted the Castle silhouette to be positioned.  They removed the protective layer on the release-tape, which exposed the adhesive that had been transferred to the backs of the characters, and firmly pressed the "0's" and "1's" onto the wall to ensure that the characters were securely mounted.  Lastly, they removed the backing sheet, revealing the silhouette.

Once that was completed, Mayen and Keefe installed the two rows of images of the Smithsonian buildings, each of which is face-mounted to a piece of Plexiglas.  Finally, they applied the Smithsonian sunburst, and the name of the office in large vinyl letters, on the wall to the upper left of the Castle.

According to OEC's installation team, it was very exciting and gratifying to watch the two-dimensional design drawing come to life as it was being installed.  The muted Castle silhouette is balanced by the vibrant images of the Institution's buildings, and the exhibit, itself, is a clear representation of the rich diversity that makes up the Smithsonian.

“Page Turners” in Paper Engineering: Fold, Pull, Pop, and Turn

Pop-Up mechanisms–which allow certain elements to pop up from the surface of a book page–are just some of the paper construction types highlighted in the Smithsonian Institution Libraries' (SIL) exhibit, "Paper Engineering: Fold, Pull, Pop, and Turn," on view in SIL's gallery at the National Museum of American History (NMAH).  The exhibit, described on the Office of Exhibits Central's (OEC) website in June 2010, includes 44 books that range in date from the mid-16th to the early 21st centuries, creating an intriguing retrospective of volumes, which were designed and constructed with parts that move.

Selected by Stephen Van Dyk, the exhibition curator and Librarian at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York, the books are divided into four primary categories according to each one's paper construction type, as well as the mechanisms employed.  The groups consist of Movables; Pop-Ups; Folding Mechanisms; and Fantastic forms or "Multiple Constructions."  Examples of mechanisms contained in two of these categories–Pop-Ups and Multiple Constructions–can be activated by visitors to the gallery thanks to a clever page-turning device, loaned to the Libraries by Ann Montanaro, President of the Movable Book Society.  Originally constructed by Waldo Hunt, publisher and founder of InterVisual Books, it was used as a prototype by OEC's model shop to construct the page turners that are on display in the exhibit.  Wow! The Pop-Up Book of Sports and The Pop-Up Book of Phobias, donated to the exhibition by Susan R. Frampton, are connected to the devices, and allow viewers to see the paper engineering mechanisms at work, at the push of a button.

MB case cropped

The exhibit's page-turning devices are activated by push buttons


A windshield wiper-like arm has a small fork at the end which captures the page and holds it in place.  The arm is connected to a low-powered synchronous timing motor that is concealed inside the pedestal on which the device sits, which moves the arm back and forth; as the arm moves, the page follows along with it.  By the time the arm has completed its trip from right to left, the previous page has been turned, and a new page has been revealed; the arm then moves in the opposite direction so that the previous page is visible once more.  The cycle is slow enough that visitors can watch the book's moving parts with ease, as they open and close.

MB books closed cropped


MB books halfway cropped 1281


MB books open cropped

Wow!: The Pop-Up Book of Sports on the left,
and The Pop-Up Book of Phobias on the right, are connected to the
page-turning devices

"From studying the Libraries' page turner, I had a good idea of how I wanted to construct the device for the 'Paper Engineering' exhibit," said OEC model maker Jon Zastrow.  "A low voltage push button activates a relay, and turns the 120V timing motor to the 'on' position.  The page turner arm swings through its cycle.  A micro switch opens the circuit, turning off the motor each time the arm reaches its 'home' position, until the button is pushed again, thereby conserving energy."  The fabric-covered pedestal on which the page turner sits, has a slot cut into it to provide a free range of motion for the device's arm as it moves back and forth.  The device, itself, is constructed of molded plexiglas which serves as a book cradle.

MB people

Visitors to the gallery watch the page-turning devices in action


The exacting design and engineering of the various book elements, allow authors to create an infinite number of variations–at all levels of complexity–which work together successfully.  The page turners help viewers see how the mechanisms function, and how the various elements connect to one another.  Due to the great popularity of "Paper Engineering: Fold, Pull, Pop, and Turn," the page turners have already completed thousands of revolutions.  They will, no doubt, continue to delight visitors for thousands more revolutions to come.

Background information on the books and collections is from Stephen Van Dyk, Library Director, at the Smithsonian's Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, New York.

Wow!: The Pop-Up Book of Sports by Sara Braunstein and Jennifer Altavilla, with paper engineering by Bruce Foster, was published by Time Books in 2009; The Pop-Up Book of Phobias by Gary Greenberg, with paper engineering by Matthew Reinhart, was published by Rob Weisbach Books in 1999.

Paper Engineering: Fold, Pull, Pop, and Turn exhibit installation


The fascinating art of paper engineering is the focus of a new exhibit that is on display in the Smithsonian Institution Libraries' (SIL) gallery at the National Museum of American History (NMAH).  "Paper Engineering: Fold, Pull, Pop, and Turn" includes 44 books that range in date from the mid-16th to the early 21st centuries, creating an intriguing retrospective of volumes, which were designed and constructed with parts that move.  Selected by Stephen Van Dyk, the exhibit curator at the Smithsonian's Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York, the books are divided into four primary categories according to each one's paper construction type, as well as the mechanisms employed.  The groups include Movables; Pop-Ups; Folding Mechanisms; and Fantastic Forms.  The Office of Exhibits Central (OEC) collaborated with the Libraries on the organization and production of the exhibit.

Movable Books 1 final

"Movables" include books with movable parts such as flaps; wheels or volvelles; and pull tabs


Movable Books 2 final

"Pop-Ups" are comprised of books that pop up from the surface of the page
 such as stage sets or pull-out layers; v-folds; box and cylinder
constructions; and floating layers


Movable Books 3 final

"Folding Mechanisms" consist of books that fold up such as carousels;
 tunnels or peep-shows; and leporellos


Movable Books 4 final

"Fantastic Forms" embrace those books which contain a combination of
construction types


Drawn mainly from the collections of the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, and the Smithsonian's Dibner Library in Washington, D.C., the books demonstrate the changes that have taken place over time in paper engineering, as well as the continuing use and popularity of many of the oldest types of paper construction techniques.  According to Van Dyk, "Authors, designers, and paper engineers have employed diverse construction methods and mechanisms to create pop-up and movable books that have educated and entertained readers for more than 800 years.  In many cases, movable parts and pop-ups have been the most effective way to teach concepts such as alphabets and numbers to children, or to illustrate the human body by revealing the locations and positions of internal organs."


An example of the latter is included in the exhibit, and falls into the category of volumes known as "Movables."  De homine [On man] was printed by Petrus Leffen and Franciscus Mayardus in the Netherlands in 1662, based on the work of Rene Descartes (1596-1650), the French philosopher, mathematician, and scientist.  "Movables" which have parts that are superimposed or layered on the page, include three basic construction types: flaps; wheels or volvelles; and pull tabs.  De homine contains flaps–which were hinged on the surface of the page, and opened like a window, revealing an image below–that were used to illustrate the physiology of the heart.

Movable Books 5 final

"Movables" book: De homine [On man]


Another work in the "Movables" category is the Astronomicum Caesareum [The emperor's astronomy], the earliest book in the exhibit.  It was printed in Ingolstadt, Germany, in 1540, based on the work of Peter Apian (1495-1552), a German scholar who was famous for his writings on astronomy, mathematics, and cartography.  In the book, hand-decorated wheels or volvelles are used–paper disks which, when rotated, brought images and information into alignment–allowing the reader to chart the positions of the planets.

Movable Books 6 final

"Movables" book: Astronomicum Caesareum [The emperor's astronomy]
Book loan: Courtesy Mr. and Mrs. Robert Gordon and the Adler Planetarium, Chicago, Illinois


The second category of books in the exhibit, "Pop-Ups," have parts that are attached to the surface of the page which pop up when the page is opened.  "Pop-Ups" include four basic construction types: stage sets or pull-out layers;   v-folds; box and cylinder constructions; and floating layers.  The Elements of Geometrie of the Most Auncient Philosopher Euclide of Megara… is an excellent example of the category.  Printed in 1570 by J. Daye in London, based on the work of the ancient Greek mathematician Euclid, the book contains box and cylinder mechanisms, which were used to create pyramids and other geometric forms.

Movable Books 7 final.jpg.

"Pop-Ups" book: The Elements of Geometrie of the Most Auncient Philosopher
Euclide of Megara…


One of the most recent works in the exhibit, In the Beginning: The Art of Genesis, A Pop-Up Book, also falls into the "Pop-Ups" category.  Written and designed by Chuck Fischer with paper engineering by Bruce Foster, and printed by Little, Brown, New York, in 2008, floating layers were used to enhance the story line.

Movable Books 8 final

"Pop-Ups" book: In the Beginning: The Art of Genesis, A Pop-Up Book


The third category of books included in the exhibit, known as "Folding Mechanisms," fold and unfold in an accordion-like manner, and include three basic construction types: carousels; tunnels or peep shows; and leporellos.  The Sleeping Beauty, for example, is an exquisite carousel book, printed by L. van Leer in Amsterdam, ca. 1950, with illustrations by Roland Pym.  The hidden complexities of its carousel shape, when opened to a 360 degree circle, can be seen from above.

Movable Books 9 final

"Folding Mechanisms" book: The Sleeping Beauty



Aerial view of The Sleeping Beauty


In contrast, Van Dyk noted, "The tunnel book or peep-show, consisting of a series of illustrated cards edged with figures or scenery placed at a distance, one behind the other, creates the illusion of depth and perspective.  A notable example is a beautifully hand-colored peep show called Garden Scene, created by German engraver Martin Engelbrecht (1684-1756), who popularized these curious tunnel books in the 18th century."  Printed in Augsburg, Germany, ca. 1750, the book depicts an elegant dance scene set in a classical garden.

Movable Books 14 final

"Folding Mechanisms" book: Garden Scene


The fourth category of books included in the exhibit, "Fantastic Forms," incorporates multiple construction types, which range from traditional mechanisms to ever-changing new innovations.  Mega-Beasts by Robert Sabuda and Matthew Reinhart, printed by Candlewick Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 2007, is one of many examples included in the exhibit.

Movable Books 12 final

"Fantastic Forms" book: Mega-Beasts


While the books are important as works of art, the design and engineering behind their construction is equally significant.  Ensuring that all of the parts that move can survive thousands of manipulations, and that all parts can be contained within the covers of the volume once it is closed, often involves complex planning and testing.  Additionally, the movable parts must successfully satisfy the design concepts that the author is hoping to convey.


Moreover, designing and constructing brackets to support the books while they are on exhibit is a considerable challenge.  OEC's plexi specialist, Richard Gould, worked closely with SIL's conservator, Vanessa Haight Smith, to design and fabricate mounts that would protect the books' fragile elements, while at the same time, allow the public to view the volumes as the authors intended them to be seen.  Bee: A Read-about, Fold-out, and Pop-up, by David Hawcock and Lee Montgomery, printed by Random House, New York, in 1994, for example, has folding layers which allow a full three-dimensional reconstruction of a honeybee's body and wings, when the book's covers are brought together back to back.  The book is supported by a plexi bracket that is attached to the rear wall of the exhibit case, which creates the appearance of the bee in flight.

Movable Books 13 final

"Folding Mechanisms" book: Bee: A Read-about, Fold-out, and Pop-up


A particularly interesting mounting solution was devised for the "Folding Mechanisms" tunnel book, Garden Scene, a detailed description of which is posted on SIL's website.  Following an extensive conservation treatment by Haight Smith to stabilize the book's condition, a slotted rectangular box was fabricated out of plexi, into which the individual leaves of the tunnel structure were inserted.  When looking at the book from the front, the full scene can be viewed, along with its magnificent perspective.  As one walks around the side of the case, however, the scene dissolves into its individual layers, and the author's engineering skills become apparent.

Movable Books 14 final

Front view of "Folding Mechanisms" book, Garden Scene

plexi 3-4

Three-quarter view of Garden Scene

plexi side

Side view of Garden Scene


As well as collaborating on the design and fabrication plans for the exhibit, OEC also worked with SIL on its installation.  While OEC staff placed decks, graphics, label bars, and brackets, Haight Smith carefully installed the books in their individual cases.

Movable Books 17 final

Vanessa Haight Smith installs the "Pop-Ups" book, Ricky the Rabbit, with
 illustrations by Vojtech Kubasta, printed by Bancroft in London, ca. 1961


Movable Books 18 final

Richard Gould attaches a plexi book mount to the back wall of an exhibit case


Movable Books 19 final

Gould and Stoy Popovich place a plexi vitrine on top of the "Fantastic Forms"
 case base using rubber suction cups


Movable Books 20 final

The completed "Fantastic Forms" case


Movable Books 21 final

Popovich installs a header above the gallery entrance


Movable Books 22 final

Kathleen Varnell and Rolando Mayen install entryway graphics


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Varnell ensures that the graphic panel is straight by holding a level up to a line of type


In addition to the remarkable books that are on view, an equally compelling element of the exhibit is a video component developed by the Libraries.  One of the two films on continuous display in the gallery contains an enlightening interview with book author and designer, Chuck Fischer, and paper engineer, Bruce Foster, who describe the movable book design and construction process.  The second video is a collection of stop-action shots which, when strung together, demonstrate the way in which a number of the books included in the exhibit open and close, revealing the parts that move.  "Working with photographers Don Hurlbert and Jim DiLoreto in the National Museum of Natural History's (NMNH) Photo Services Department, on the stop-action videos was a great pleasure," said Susan Frampton, SIL's program coordinator.  "Setting up each shot took a great deal of time and care, but the result is spectacular.  The books truly look as if they are alive."


From their varied subject matter–scientific, theatrical, religious, historical–to their wide-ranging forms of construction–Movables, Pop-Ups, Folding Mechanisms, Fantastic Forms–the books included in "Paper Engineering: Fold, Pull, Pop, and Turn" are multi-dimensional works of art.  The exhibit captures the excitement and wonder, as well as the complexity and sometimes seemingly gravity-defying actions, of these captivating books.

Movable Books 24 final

"Fantastic Forms" book, titled One Red Dot: a Pop-Up Book for
Children of All Ages
, by David A. Carter, was printed in 2004, 
by Little Simon, New York



Background information on the books and collections is from Stephen Van Dyk, Library Director, at the Smithsonian's Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, New York.