Museum making updates to storage area, exhibits

Call it the domino effect.

A single decision to create a new permanent exhibit at the Besser Museum for Northeast Michigan is mushrooming into facelifts to two other permanent exhibits. Added to the mix is a major upgrade of the facility’s collections area.

Museum staff recently decided to move a popular animal exhibit from its temporary home in Wilson Gallery to a more permanent location in the lower level natural history area. That in turn impacted where to put logging artifacts that will be displaced by moving the animal mounts downstairs.

The logging artifacts will then be either incorporated into the museum’s Avenue of Shops or stored. Artifacts destined for storage will end up in one of the museum’s collections storage rooms, which recently was updated to bring it up to accredited museum standards while also creating more storage space.

It all started with the donation last fall of a collection of animals mounts from Cranbrook Institute of Science. Exhibits/Facilities Manager Randy Shultz put together an exhibit of the mounts in Wilson Gallery, a space used for changing exhibits.

“The whole domino effect started because of the animal collection,” Shultz said. “It’s turned out to be so popular with the public that we couldn’t put the animals into storage when the exhibit is finished in May.”

The museum looked at converting the entire lower level into a natural history area. That area already features a number of high quality taxidermy mounts of animals and fish as well as framed leaves indigenous to Michigan. The only space on the lower level that didn’t fit in with the natural history concept was a room used for a permanent logging display.

“As it currently is, the story of the logging industry is incomplete,” Shultz said, adding that the logging exhibit has remained unchanged and static for many years. The decision was made instead to convert the logging exhibit area into the new animal exhibit space.

A section of the Avenue of Shops, another museum exhibit that also has remained virtually unchanged since it was installed many years ago, will be used to better tell the story of the importance of the logging industry to the people of the area.

“From a standing tree to touching on lumbering camps and the mills in town to finish work done at places like Gebhardt-Morrow Lumber, the exhibit in the Avenue of Shops will better tell the complete story,” Shultz said, adding that he is excited about the prospect of freshening up two permanent exhibits to make the spaces more interesting for the public.

At the same time these plans have begun to take shape, the staff installed new raised platforms in the collections storage room. That project was made possible through a grant from The Home Depot that covered the costs of the $780 worth of materials needed to construct the platforms.

“We raised the floor in the collections storage area for the protection of our artifacts,” Shultz said. “New standards for accreditation by the American Museums Association is to have artifacts stored six inches off the floor. The previous standard had been four inches.”

Prior to the newly installed platforms, items were stored on pallets at a high of four inches, which Collection Manager Danyeal Dorr said was the old AMA standard.

Putting in the new raised platforms necessitated moving a large amount of artifacts temporarily of the storage room. Doing so is enabling Dorr to better inventory and catalog each item.

“We’ve stepped into the 21st century from where we were,” Dorr said. “The previous pallets were in rough shape. Replacing them has given us the opportunity to organize and inventory as it really should be done.”

Because of how the artifacts previously were packed into the space, Dorr and Shultz both discovered a couple of items among the museum’s holdings that surprised them, including several antique bicycles and portable embalming tables. While the room was vacated in preparation for installing the new raised platforms, Shultz and fellow staff member Matt Klimczak scraped and bleached the walls, and scrubbed and sealed the floors.

“This is what you would expect museum storage to look like,” Shultz said. “Before, we always dreaded coming into this room.”

Shultz also said the staff is very grateful to The Home Depot for making the grant funds available and for delivering the needed materials free of charge to the museum. Several volunteers from The Home Depot also helped to unload all of the materials which the grant covered.