Sunday, April 24, 2011

Museum Easter Eggs

Museum designers often add "Easter Eggs" to their work.  But not the brightly dyed or chocolate-y varieties --- these are more akin to the hidden "Easter Eggs" that you may stumble across (or deliberately search out) inside video games, crossword puzzles, or DVDs.

For visitors, it's fun to feel like you've found a little "secret" inside a museum building or exhibition, and for designers it's a little "trick" to reward visitors for carefully observing and examining things inside the museum.

"Exhibits as advent calendars" as Dan Spock has observed (to mix religious holiday metaphors a bit!)  So here are a few of my favorite museum easter eggs:

• The Hidden Cat: Starting with the picture at the top of this posting is the "cat" hidden in the atrium of the Science Discovery Museum in Acton, MA.  It's fun to point out to visitors, and it really reflects the playful nature of the building and exhibits inside.

• Secret Elves at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science: Artist Kent R. Pendleton worked on many of the Museum's dioramas, but supposedly he wasn't allowed to sign his name to his work.  Instead, Pendleton included little "elfin" figures hidden throughout many of the displays.  There's a great blog posting (with video) about Pendleton's retro easter eggs!

• The Magic House Mouse:  The "Magic House" Children's Museum outside St. Louis has some wonderful exhibits, but one of my favorite "hidden gems" is the tiny decorated mouse hole near the baseboards in one of the galleries.  If you were just whizzing around you might not ever see it, but if you're willing to get down on your hands and knees you might see (as in the photo below) a "presidential" mouse:

• The "Hidden Tunnel" at Casa Loma:  Casa Loma is a gigantic historic house outside Toronto that is filled with enough crazy details to keep even little kids interested during the self-guided tours.  One of the things I remember from a family visit (nearly 40 years ago!) was the cool secret tunnel, nearly 100 feet long, that was hidden behind a pivoting wall section (just like in all those scary movies --- but this was real!)  that led to the Casa's underground wine cellar:

Of course some museums, like The City Museum, also in St. Louis, or the Museum of Jurassic Technology in L.A., are practically interlocking collections of "easter eggs" or in-jokes, but that's certainly one aspect that makes them so popular.

What are some of your most memorable "Museum Easter Eggs"?  Let us know in the "Comments Section" below!  

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  1. Marcel Duchamp's Étant Donnés-- does it count as an Easter Egg? Maybe not of the variety about which you are posting, but it is the first thing that sprung to my mind.
    I saw a group of people walk up to it at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and one said, "Oh look! Rotting wood doors. There's some really great art," (sarcasm sarcasm!) and they turned and walked away! They didn't even think to peek through the peephole!

  2. Oh! The Museum of Play in Rochester has some fun little peepholes in the exhibit bases.
    This is a great post, Paul. Easter eggs are too much fun.
    Monticello, too, is a house full of interlocking easter eggs. The Mercer in New Jersey, too.

  3. @Jason

    The nice things about getting people to look for "Museum Easter Eggs" (of all stripes -- I'd consider Duchamp's piece in the mix, too) is that it sets up a nice "positive feedback loop" for careful observation, and taking things slowly.

  4. At Providence Children's Museum, we have a lot of fun with hunt and challenge sheets. Laminated cards of interesting close-up photos to seek out have been a hit with repeat visitors. We've made clue cards for spooky elements hidden throughout exhibits for Halloween and wacky, out-of-place things for April Fools Day. Simple, spontaneous, cheap and fun.

  5. I love that "The Magic House Mouse" That mouse sitting on his "presidential" seat lOoks like my favorite stuart Little! LOL! sO CUTEEEEEEE ! !! I really like it! As in very much!!!

  6. I used to give tours with a laser pointer to point out the DMNS elves!