Logan Museum of Anthropology Study Drawers

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.

cabinet overview

Fig. 1  Cabinet with study drawers containing archaeological artifacts in the Shaw Gallery

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.

Fig. 2  Informational plaque on top of study cabinet.

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.

Example of archaeological artifact study drawer label

Fig. 3  Example of archaeological artifact study drawer label

drawer layout

Fig. 4  Example of study drawer layout and arrangement of artifacts.

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.

Lighting in the Shaw Gallery

Fig. 5  Lighting in the Shaw Gallery

Example of gallery lighting casting shadows on objects and exhibit labels

Fig. 6  Example of gallery lighting casting shadows on objects and exhibit labels

Example of gallery lighting casting shadows making it difficult to read labels and observe objects near the back of the drawers

Fig. 7  Example of gallery lighting casting shadows making it difficult to read labels and observe objects near the back of the drawers

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.

needs repair - artifact storage 2

Fig. 8  Example of artifacts moving due to opening and closing of drawers

needs repair - storage of artifact

Fig. 9  Example of artifacts moving due to opening and closing of drawers

Study drawer label that needs to be repaired and replaced

Fig. 10  Study drawer label that needs to be repaired and replaced

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.

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3 thoughts on “Logan Museum of Anthropology Study Drawers

  1. I thought this post did an excellent job of highlighting the galleries weakest and strongest aspects. I too find it very convenient that the museum provides labels for everything in the drawers, whether it is a snippet about the cultural aspects of the items or the actual items themselves. Not only will this help the viewers, but it makes for a better learning environment like the museum’s mission statement clearly states. I have found that I read something I am more likely to remember it than if someone is just rattling on about a subject. One aspect I enjoyed was how critical you are of the flaws of the museum and how fixable they really are. For instance you said some of the tags on the drawers were falling off, all they need to do is press about 30 keys on a keyboard, a few clicks of a mouse, and you have your new tag. I did like your suggestion of putting energy saving LED lighting in the drawers to eliminate the shadows cast by the current lighting. Now I really don’t know much about lighting, but I have heard that some lighting could possibly damage the actual object of display. Could this LED light exposure possibly damage the object overtime or are these lights safe to shine on all objects?

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  2. I agree with a lot of Steph’s points. I also like the study drawers. She touched on several aspects of the drawers that didn’t occur to me such as they are not only used so that more material can be displayed but also as a way to protect the objects. A problem about the drawers she mentions is the poor lighting on the objects, I thought her suggestion of LED lights was a good one but like she said it would be a costly project. The post was nice to read, I especially enjoyed having the text split up by pictures.

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  3. Thank you Steph for critiquing the museum! I also think the lighting in the Shaw Gallery could use some work and LED lights would be a perfect solution although I am also not aware of their cost. As for the labels and movement of the artifacts, I work as a museum attendant at the Logan so that is an easy fix that I can take care of! I also really enjoy the drawers. They are not only informative but also interactive. They allow the visitors to pull them out as they wish and also there is a quiz they can take in the middle set (on bead work of the Sioux and Crow), which is refreshing after looking at all the artifacts in the Cube. I really appreciate the constructive criticism of the campus museum and the pictures provided.

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