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The Art of African Exploration

Starting in December 2008 visitors to the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) get the chance to view rare illustrated books highlighting European explorations of Africa in the 1800s. The Smithsonian Institution Libraries (SIL), through a donation from the Folger Foundation, is building and installing two exhibition cases in NMNH’s lobby that will showcase the Libraries’ vast collections of books.

Damage from light is an important consideration when deciding how to exhibit rare books. Light damage is both permanent and cumulative, so the exhibition will display volumes on a rotating basis. The exhibit will also include works on paper and manuscripts that relate to African exploration. Members of the OEC Design/Editing unit met with the Libraries in March to view the books in person and start planning the exhibit.


Lynn Kawaratani, Bart McGarry, and Alicia Jager are the OEC designers working on this exhibition. Jager is designing the graphics while Kawaratani and McGarry design the three-dimensional layout with small-scale paper models of the cases and books. Kawaratani stressed the advantages of using the paper models to design this exhibit instead of a computer, such as the ability to verify the book rotations and easily present the vision to the client.

photo: McGarry and Kawaratani arrange books in the scale model.

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