Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Off to Germany!

I'm delighted to have been invited to speak about exhibition development and to also critique exhibitions in Nuremberg and Berlin with the staff of Hüttinger Interactive Exhibitions in Germany this week.

For the past several years, Hüttinger Interactive Exhibitions has been doing a professional development program with their staff. Once a year, their staff climbs into a bus for several days of exhibition critiques. First they visit one institution for which Hüttinger has worked, and then another museum for which their respected competitors have produced exhibits. This year we will be visiting museums in Berlin.

The deal with their staff is simple: Hüttinger pays all expenses and the staff donate a full day of their free time, and there is no obligation for anybody to participate. Prior to the Berlin museum junket, I will lead Exhibit Development Workshops at Hüttinger's headquarters in Nuremberg. Previous internationally respected speakers for this workshop series have included Peter Anderson, Elsa Bailey, and Ian Russell.

While I'm away in Germany, I thought now would be a great time to post an essay previously featured on ExhibiTricks by Managing Director Axel Hüttinger.  Click here to read "What is Innovative Exhibition Design?" 

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Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Amazing World of Dinosaurs: An Interview with James Kuether

James Kuether is an award-winning artist whose paintings and photographs hang in galleries and private collections around the globe. He is an amateur fossil hunter and a life-long dinosaur enthusiast. His natural history art has appeared in numerous publications and enhances natural history museum displays in the United States and Europe. 

His book, "The Amazing World of Dinosaurs" features a collection of more than 160 original illustrations and was published by Adventure/Keen in October 2016. James is a member of several professional artist organizations as well as the Society for Vertebrate Paleontology. In addition to creating artwork, James has been a corporate executive, an executive coach, and a consultant to nonprofit organizations and Fortune 500 companies. He makes his home in Minneapolis, MN.

Jim was kind enough to answer these questions for ExhibiTricks readers.  As a bonus, we'll be giving away autographed copies of "The Amazing World of Dinosaurs" to two lucky ExhibiTricks readers, so read on for more details!

What’s your educational background? I have a non-traditional education. I worked in the financial services world for 25 years. During that career, I studied art, going on to become a fairly accomplished watercolorist. That experience provided a grounding in art principles and theories. At the same time, my interest in dinosaurs had me subscribing to academic journals and buying every book on the topic I could get my hands on. So regarding the disciplines of art and paleontology, I’m mostly self-taught.

What got you interested in dinosaurs and dinosaur illustration? My grandparents had a ranch just outside of Rapid City, South Dakota. One of my earliest memories is of my grandmother taking me to the South Dakota School of Mines Museum in Rapid City where I saw a mounted skeleton of the duck-billed dinosaur Edmontosaurus. Right from there, we drove up to Dinosaur Hill where there were life-sized reconstructions of dinosaurs. I think I was 5 years old, and from then on, I was hooked. 

Regarding art, throughout my career as a watercolorist, I painted “respectable” subjects like landscapes, still lifes and traditional figures. Then about 10 years ago, 3D computer graphics became accessible and affordable for home computer systems. I began dabbling, and it was then that my passion for both dinosaurs and art really came together.

What informs your design process? First and foremost it is the scientific accuracy of both the dinosaur’s anatomy and its environment. The species of vegetation that existed during the time of dinosaurs are different – in some cases very different – from those we’re familiar with today. It’s important to make sure that the plants in the images lived at the same time as the depicted dinosaurs.

In addition, the same factors that influence traditional art –color, value, composition – inform the image. It’s not enough to plop some cool-looking animals into a scene. I give a lot of consideration to the behaviors of the animals and how to compose them within a scene that is not only pleasing to look at, but also feasible and consistent with current scientific knowledge. All that being said, imagination still plays a huge role in determining the coloring of the animals and the design of the landscapes. The dinosaur imagery I create is a unique combination of science and imagination.

What’s your favorite dinosaur, and why? I have to admit to having a real love/hate relationship with that question. I love the question because it always sparks great discussion – especially with young people – but I hate it because, for me, it’s so hard to answer. There are currently more than 1,000 valid genera of dinosaurs, and most of those have been described in only the past 15 – 20 years! So favorite for me changes constantly. But I will say this – I always end up rooting for the underdog. So the herbivores – especially the hadrosaurs – tend to be my favorites. Edmontosaurus isn’t a flashy dinosaur. It doesn’t have big teeth or horns or spikes. But its form and design had an elegance that I find fascinating and quite beautiful.

What are some of your favorite online (or offline!) resources for people interested in finding out more about dinosaurs? There are a lot of dinosaur dictionary and encyclopedia sites. Websites like Prehistoric Wildlife and Dinopedia offer a convenient resource for finding out about your favorite dinosaur. But my favorites are the ones that focus on exciting news in the field of paleontology and dinosaurs in general.

Earth Archives is a wonderful site that has lots of “breaking news” features and summaries of ground-breaking research that are presented without a lot of scientific jargon. Novataxa features the newest discoveries, not just of dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals, but of extant (living) animal discoveries as well.

For off-line resources, The Princeton Field Guide to Dinosaurs by Gregory S. Paul, and Dinosaurs: The Most Complete, Up-to-date Encyclopedia for Dinosaur Lovers of All Ages by Thomas Holtz is packed with Luis Rey’s great dinosaur images. I also keep a regular list of resources on the Resources tab of my own website, so people can check there as well.

What do you do when you’re not creating dinosaurs? I think about creating dinosaurs! It really is a bit of an obsession. In addition to my natural history art, I consult with non-profit organizations, specifically in Southeast Asian countries. My business background along with my passion for art and prehistory has provided me with an incredibly rich (I don’t mean that in the monetary sense) and varied life!

What do you think will be the “next frontier” for dinosaur discoveries? Wow. That’s a great question and an exciting one to consider. New tools that are available to scientists are allowing us to look deeper into the microscopic details of fossils and discover aspects of dinosaur physiology we never dreamed we’d have access to. Recent discoveries of actual soft-tissue remains that have been preserved in amber, and the discovery that certain soft-tissue remains that can be coaxed from fossilized bones are providing answers to some of the most fundamental and perplexing questions about dinosaurs, such as their relationship to birds and whether they were warm blooded, cold blooded, or something else altogether. As an artist, the work being done to determine the coloration of some dinosaurs is really amazing. That work holds a lot of promise for developing ever-more accurate reconstructions of how these amazing animals looked.

What are some of your favorite museums or exhibitions? It’s pretty tough to beat the American Museum of Natural History in New York. In fact, whenever I visit New York I stay right across the street from the museum so I can spend as much time there as possible! I also have a fondness for the Science Museum of Minnesota. Its dinosaur and prehistoric animal collection isn’t very well known, but it’s impressive (sporting the largest mounted Triceratops in the world!) It has a special place in my heart as my hometown science museum. It was key to developing and feeding my passion.

Can you talk a little about some of your current projects and your recently published book
This has been a fun year. I’ve had requests from several museums around the world to use my images to accompany their fossil displays. That’s been a huge honor. My artwork has also appeared in several publications, including major books by noted paleontologists. But certainly, the publication of “The Amazing World of Dinosaurs” by Adventure/Keen publications was the biggest kick. I was given the latitude to write the book I wanted to write – something that’s a rare gift in the publishing world. As a result, I was able to give voice to the things I feel the strongest about, including the importance of science education, the role of women in science and in paleontology in particular, and the amazing beauty and grace (in addition to the innate coolness) of dinosaurs.

If money were no object, what would your “dream” dinosaur project be? I love collaboration with smart, knowledgeable, passionate people, so it’s great to partner with experts to create natural history imagery. I get excited when I’m requested to change an image to match up to a specific fossil discovery.  Adjusting my work to more accurately fit the science or the client’s ideal of what an animal should look or act like is when I get really pumped up about the process. If I can do that, and if the results further the science or inspire someone (and not only young people) to want to learn more about dinosaurs and ancient life, then I'm living my dream.

Many thanks to Jim for sharing his thoughts with ExhibiTricks readers! You can find out more about his artwork by clicking over to his website.

AND NOW FOR THE CONTEST! If you'd like a chance to win one of the two free autographed copies of Jim's book, 
The Amazing World of Dinosaurs” that we'll be giving away, you can either subscribe to the ExhibiTricks blog by clicking on the link at the top right side of this webpage, OR send an email to me (Paul Orselli) with the subject "Dinosaur Book Contest" before January 31, 2017 to enter to win.

We will be randomly choosing one winner from new subscribers and the other winner from the email entries on February 1, 2017.  Good luck!

Don't miss out on any ExhibiTricks posts! It's easy to get updates via email or your favorite news reader. Just click the "Sign up for Free ExhibiTricks Blog Updates" link on the upper right side of the blog.

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Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Museum/Exhibit/Design Toolkit: Dinosaur Duplicates!

I'm just finishing up work on a fun dinosaurs exhibition for The Children's Museum in West Hartford, Connecticut.  While we've been lucky to get some real dinosaur and fossil materials from our creative partners to use, there are times that using cast or realistic replicas in an exhibition are the way to go.

With that in mind, I thought I'd share some resources where I've purchased "dinosaur duplicates" for exhibitions (and in some cases, real fossil material as well.)

Black Hills Institute
Black Hills Institute of Geological Research Inc., has long been recognized as the world’s finest paleontological and earth science supply house. The Institute’s primary business is supplying professionally prepared fossils, fossil casts, and mineral specimens for research, teaching, and exhibitions.

Skulls Unlimited 
Skulls Unlimited International is the granddaddy of commercial skull cleaning and processing dealers. They also sell high quality replicas in addition to their natural bone products.

Dinosaur Resin Replica
As the name implies, Dinosaur Resin Replica sells resin statues and models of dinosaurs of all shapes and sizes (including the raptor I'm pictured with at the top of this post!)  They sell statues and models of other types of animals as well.

Glen at PaleoScene really does a great job creating museum-quality reproductions produced from original fossil specimens. Their catalog includes a variety of well-preserved and historically important specimens from several different geologic periods, as well as one of the largest selections of dinosaur and pre-dinosaur track casts available anywhere.  You can also purchase real fossils in bulk (great for simulated fossil dig exhibits!) from PaleoScene as well.

Prehistoric Planet
Prehistoric Planet bills itself as "The Museum where you can purchase every exhibit!"  Leaving that aside, the website does sell a wide range of items, including some hard-to-find cast replicas.

I hope you find some good information and inspiration at the websites above. If you have some of your own suggestions for prehistoric paraphernalia purveyors that you've used for exhibits projects, let us know in the "Comments" section below!

Don't miss out on any ExhibiTricks posts! It's easy to get updates via email or your favorite news reader. Just click the "Sign up for Free ExhibiTricks Blog Updates" link on the upper right side of the blog.

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Sunday, January 1, 2017

Looking Back to Move Forward: Top 10 ExhibiTricks Posts from 2016.

The Sankofa image above, a stylized bird looking back over its shoulder, comes from Ghana and represents the need to reflect on the past to build a successful future.  In that spirit, and with 2017 upon us, I offer ten ExhibiTricks posts worth reflecting on as we start the new year:

A Practical Guide to Museum Ethics: An Interview with Sally Yerkovich  Ethics seems like an important topic to consider, in museums and broader society, so Sally's book and interview are both worth a read.

Humor Me A Moment: The Power Of Humor In Museums  On a completely different note, Cara Dodge shared her thoughts on humor in museums, based on her research.

What Do You Mean By "The World's Best Museum" ?  Did you ever wonder why some projects never seem to get off the ground? Read this post to find out about one common reason for lack of project traction.

Edifice Complex and Museums Another common cause of "projectus interruptus" is the dreaded "Edifice Complex."

These three related posts all cluster around notions of customer service and healthy, robust institutions:

Among the super smart people that were featured on ExhibiTricks in 2016, I especially liked these posts featuring Nina Simon and Margaret Middleton:

Last, but not least, I'd feel remiss if I didn't highlight this 2016 post about one of my favorite museum/exhibit/design tools:

And with that, I'd like to wish every ExhibiTricks reader a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2017. 

Are there any articles or resources from 2016 that you've been reflecting back on?  Please share in the "Comments" section below!

Don't miss out on any ExhibiTricks posts! It's easy to get updates via email or your favorite news reader. Just click the "Sign up for Free ExhibiTricks Blog Updates" link on the upper right side of the blog.

P.S. If you receive ExhibiTricks via email (or Facebook or LinkedIn) you will need to click HERE to go to the main ExhibiTricks page to make comments or view multimedia features (like videos!)