The Logan Museum of Anthropology, an undergraduate teaching museum at Beloit College, has several ongoing exhibitions housed within the unique study drawers located in the center of the Shaw Gallery on the second floor (see Fig. 1). The study drawers include exhibits on “Turtle Culture”, Native American beadwork, Ojibwa Quillwork, pipestone, and archaeological artifacts. Within the selection, I found the archaeological artifacts ranging from Paleo-Indian times 13,000 years ago up through the mid-19th Century to be the most interesting.
The design of this exhibit is quite intriguing when viewed in light of the purpose of the Logan Museum. The study drawers embrace the mission statement of the Logan Museum, which focuses on its role as a teaching museum that encourages the practical use of artifacts and “[enhancing] physical and intellectual access to museum resources, both onsite and online.” The drawers enhance student access to artifacts by allowing visitors to view many more artifacts than a more traditional exhibit case would allow.
Archaeological artifacts are sorted into drawers by time period and culture group. The informational plaques on top of the study cabinets provide sufficient background information to orient the viewer before they open the study drawers and begin exploring (see Fig. 2). I enjoyed the ways in which the plaques highlight the connections between the objects seen in the drawers and the history of the Beloit College campus.
Each drawer has a simple label that describes the kinds of objects the drawer contains. The labels are effective because they are simple yet informative (see Fig. 3). When the visitor opens the drawer they see many artifacts arranged in an orderly and visually appealing manner (see Fig. 4). My favorite aspect of the study drawers is that they provide safe storage for the artifacts while greatly increasing the number of objects that visitors and students are able to observe. When a visitor is not viewing the objects the drawer is shut, ensuring that objects that may be susceptible to light damage (such as the quillwork) are protected from the gallery lighting. Additionally, the objects are snuggly fit into custom cut slots in the foam that protects objects from moving, rolling, or hitting against each other when drawers are opened and shut.
Although I enjoyed many aspects of the study drawers, there are a few areas that could improve the effectiveness of the exhibits. First, the lighting within the gallery casts troublesome shadows on the objects when viewing the open drawers. The gallery lighting is effective for viewing the large murals and exhibit display cases on the outer walls of the Shaw Gallery (see Fig. 5), but causes annoying shadows for the study drawers located in the center of the gallery (see Fig. 6, 7). One possible solution would be to incorporate LED lighting within the drawers that automatically turns on when drawers are open and off when drawers are shut. By placing LED lights inside the drawers, the shadows caused by light from above would be eliminated. However, adding LED lighting to the drawers would be a very costly project, so the current gallery lighting is likely the most responsible option with the resources the museum currently has.
Beyond lighting, I observed a couple of additional issues within the exhibit that could be fixed relatively quickly and at little to no cost. For example, several artifacts have moved out of their proper placement within the drawer (see Fig. 8, 9). The movement of the objects out of their original places not only is distracting to the viewer, but also causes risks to the objects. If objects continue to move further form their original positions, they run the risk of bumping into other objects and causing damage. The slots where objects have moved should be repaired in order to keep the objects safe and maintain an orderly exhibit for visitor viewing. Another easy improvement to the exhibit would be to construct new labels for a couple of the worn drawer labels, such as the “Archaic Implements” label shown above (see Fig. 10).
Overall, I greatly enjoyed revisiting the archaeological artifact exhibit at the Logan Museum. The accessibility of a large variety of objects and descriptive information plaques within the drawers successfully fulfills the museum’s mission and purpose as an undergraduate teaching tool.