The Bridges Collection has a whole new look! Leah Neiman talks about The Bridges Collection case makeover.
In April of 2019 the team began a campaign to re-design and enliven the display of the Collection. The Bridges Collection was donated to the University in 1994 for educational purposes. It now forms part of the University’s nationally significant Heritage Collection and is used extensively for hands-on teaching within the School of Classics, schools and community venues. The collection is displayed in the archaeology room in the School of Classics, in wall cases that line two sides of the room. Previously, the collection was arranged in a roughly chronological order, though objects often moved around during classes. This open storage format was accompanied by virtually no interpretation, with the result that only specialist could really discern the order.
The goal of the redesign was to give the objects space, highlight the diverse lives of these objects in antiquity, and create a more inclusive display that could make sense to a wide range of audiences. The renovation of the display has also provided us the opportunity to create additional resources in tandem with the new cases, including cards with QR code links to digital models and online resources and the incorporation of sensory approaches to understanding the collection.
As it happened, the redesign of the display occurred in two phases: research and design in the spring, followed by the reinstallation in the fall. The cases were divided by theme: domestic life, ritual and burial, church and religion, reading pottery, a timeline of Cypriot archaeology, and a case devoted to artistic works that have been inspired by the collection. In addition to thematically dividing up the collection and writing labels, each of us created posters to serve as a backdrop for each case. The posters not only provided contextual information but also brightened up the display (though the discovery of case lights helped with this a lot as well).
I focused on designing the “Reading Pottery” case, which leads the viewers through an archaeological investigation of pottery fragments. Designing the case was great fun, as I put on my own archaeologist hat to explore the Classics Handling Collection and select objects for the case. Two of our undergraduate research assistants from last year, Ashton and Liam, orchestrated the Church, Ritual and Burial, Domestic Life, and Timeline cases. Alison, former learning and access curator at MUSA and current PhD student in the school, created informational posters on the project and devised a beautiful case displaying the artistic creations that have been inspired by the collections, including pottery, prints, and poems!
The second phase of the project was the process of installing the new display. Due to the summer holidays, this ended up happening this fall. This timing has turned out to be a bit fortuitous, as it has allowed us to work on the installation, creation of new resources, and our website redesign as a cohesive effort. Installing the new display was extremely rewarding and exciting as I saw it all coming together. It certainly was not without its challenges, though. For example, I had designed my case without accounting for the large wooden bar that bisect the view when the case doors are closed. Similarly, the brackets that support shelves in the cases bisect the display and are not always precisely centered in the case. However, with some shuffling around the cases have all come together beautifully!
As we made room for interpretation, we found ourselves in the situation of having many more objects that could comfortably fit in the newly designed displays. We had to clean out some of the unused cases at the back of the room and decide how to display the additional objects.
I arranged the figurines in one case stylistically, but there remains the potential for a third phase of redesign in which we can add some interpretation and structure to those cases, as well.
The reinstallation process was a very rewarding one and taught me a lot about some of the challenges of creating a museum display: Condensing information to fit onto labels, arranging the case to comfortably fit objects and interpretation, arranging the logistics of creating the new displays. It is really exciting to have the reinstallation complete, and have the material presented with some of its cultural context an interpretation. We look forward to sharing with everyone!