Masonic Library & Museum Association

"Exhibit Tips"

 by Aimee Newell of the National Heritage Museum

Select a Theme: The theme can be grand or small, specific or general.  A theme helps with planning and with publicizing the exhibit.  A theme can be as simple as “treasures of the collection” or “Masonic badges and jewels.”  Or it can be more directed, perhaps relating to a specific person, lodge or event.  Having a title for the exhibit also helps with publicity.

Devise a list of goals for your exhibit: Who is your audience?  Is it solely Masonic?  Or will you want to attract community attention to the exhibit (and, thus, to the Lodge)?  How long will your exhibit be up?  Keep in mind the “exhibit resource equation.”  How much time do you have to put it together?  How much money do you have to mount the exhibit?  What is the condition of your objects?  What is the environment in the building?  Thinking about these questions at the beginning can help you plan a more organized exhibit and protect the objects in your care.  If you want to put up an exhibit that stays put for a year or two, use ceramics, glass and metals, which can handle longer light exposure and changing temperatures.  If you think you have the time to change the exhibit every six months, add more fragile artifacts like textiles (including ribbons and badges with ribbons) and works on paper (books, prints, paintings, etc.).  As a compromise you can plan to rotate fragile materials after six months and put in others.  But, think about this at the beginning as it is a lot easier to know ahead of time what size object you’ll need to fill the holes!  You can also make photographic reproductions of the more fragile paper materials and leave them in indefinitely.

Carefully inspect each item that you will put on display.  Make sure that each is structurally sound (no tears or breaks) and can handle the wear and tear of an exhibit.  When in doubt, leave it out.  There are funding sources to help you assess the condition of your overall collection; check with colleagues or fellow MLMA members to help identify the best course of action for your collection.

Labels:  LESS IS MORE!  Consider having at least one “text panel” – a larger label that conveys the title and theme of the exhibit.  The text on this label can be a bit longer (100 words or so) but should also have a larger font size.  Object labels, which identify the specific artifacts in the exhibit, should be short – no more than 50 words.  All labels should have a readable font size, generally at least 16 or 18 point; the larger the better.  Also be sure to choose a readable font like Times New Roman, and readable ink and paper colors (generally, it’s easier to read dark type on a light paper).

Final Advice:

  • Start Small
  • Set deadlines for each part of the process: select a theme, make an object list, finish labels, set an opening date
  • LESS IS MORE when it comes to labels!

Information Sheet from the 2006 MLMA Meeting

Exhibition Information Sample Page 1

Exhibition Information Sample Page 2