An Exhibit on Michigan’s Porcupine Mountains State Park

Over fall break my family and I camped in the Porcupine Mountains State Park.  The park is located in Ontonagon in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.   On a rainy Friday afternoon we explored the park’s visitor’s center.  The center included a small exhibit on the parks geological and historical background as well as the animals that are prevalent in the area.  The first display you see as you walk in is a quote defining the word wilderness “…where humans are visitors who do not remain”.  To me that quote is a very good hook into the exhibit, it made me want to see what else the exhibit said.

 

escarpment trail

My picture from my hike on the Overlook Trail

 

Geological and Historical Background

After the opening panel there are smaller panels, which describe how the main geological formations of the park were formed.  This information was useful because it helped to explain the parks unique landscape.  In white letters on a black panel with a picture of a volcano the panel describes how the volcano erupted and created the main escarpment ridge and how glaciers carved out the rest of the park.  There is also a panel on the creation and importance of copper in the region.  It discusses how copper-rich lava was pressurized by Lake Superior and solidified between rock fissures.  It also gave information on the different miners the area has had in the past.  Under the panel there is a sizable rocked infused with copper as an example of what was explained.  The next section has a display case of what miners in the area would have used such as; a lantern, washbasin and mining tools along with pictures.  As well as a small diorama of a logging site.  I found the information to be interesting and it helped me appreciate my surroundings more.

 

Union River

My picture of The Union River next to my cabin

Animals

Several animals are featured in the small exhibit.  As one might guess from the name of the park, one of the exhibits was, of course, the porcupine.  Other animals presented in the exhibit include, the fisher (a large weasel), ruffed grouse, northern goshawk, wolf, coyote, and bear.  The displays for each animal had life-sized dioramas with small informational name plaques underneath.  The wolf and the bear had additional parts.  For example, each had a skull and paw print as well as a small patch of fur you could touch so you could feel what each animal’s coat would feel like.  The bear display also had a video portion.  The video is clearly old and is in need of updating.  It features research and techniques that are most definitely not used today.  Such as tracking black bears in the region.  For example, to track the bears they placed big collars around their neck.  They also showed researchers drugging and collaring bears as well as taking tooth samples, which to be honest was just gross and slightly disturbing to watch.  It was not something I think young children should watch, it is not only outdated but also, as I said, inappropriate for that age range.  Besides the video, I found the displays on the animals to be informative.  Having a life-sized representation of the animal right in front of me gave a better understanding of the featured animal.

The Park

At the end of the exhibit there is a display that discusses the activities visitors can partake in at the park during different seasons.  In spring, for example, is the best time to see wildlife.  In the winter visitors can enjoy both downhill and cross-country skiing. Summer is a good time for hiking and swimming, but be aware that is when the bugs are out and it can be miserable.  For that reason, my favorite time to camp in the park is fall when the area is bug free and full of beautiful fall colors.

Conclusion

The exhibit in the visitor’s center of the Porcupine Mountains State Park gives a nice overview of the history and wildlife of the area.  It also provides information on the park itself, which is extremely useful for any visitor.  The one complaint I have, is that it is slightly outdated with the bear video and the use of dioramas.  The research in the bear video is old, it should be updated to discuss what research is currently taking place within the park.  Also, as we discussed in class, dioramas are being phased out for newer and more accurate display methods; but overall I thoroughly enjoyed the exhibit.

A Critique of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum Website

Overall, The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum website  has a nice layout. I found it very easy to navigate and find critical information.  I enjoyed being able to explore what the museum has to offer, from the collections to educational outlets.  From the main page the you can easily find information such as hours and admission, directions, visiting tips, suggestions on what you can do and see at the museum, a floor plan, as well as a search box to find out what objects are on display in either the Washington D.C. or Chantilly VA, museums. The main tabs include Collections, Exhibitions, Restoration and Research. There are also tabs that catch the audience’s interest such as Spotlight Event, How Do Things Fly and On the Blog.  One thing I found initially confusing was that you could click on the images under each of the tabs, but they didn’t bring you to the tab’s main site. Instead it brought the visitor to the featured category under the tab.

Collections and Exhibitions

The collections page highlights the museums popular artifacts, such as the Wright Flyer and the Apollo 11 Command Module.  I found that you can browse through the displayed artifacts, but not every item has a link and the page itself is slow to load. Their exhibition page  features many online exhibitions.  For example, the exhibit on the main page is focused on the renovation of the main exhibit the Boeing Milestone of Flight Hall. The renovation seems to embody several of the changes we have been discussing. For example, they are trying to tie their objects together using a narrative, which includes cultural and political background and information. Instead of just presenting the audience with the artifact and the facts, the exhibit designers are trying to give some historical context to the objects, which I think is a step in the right direction as far as reinventing museums.

Trends in Social Media

The exhibit page also has a link to the milestone twitter page, where followers can receive up to date progress on the renovation. I find it funny that the biggest news on their twitter is the fact that the museum took the Starship Enterprise studio model off display. Of all the artifacts the museum has, the most popular is a science fiction set. The museums blog is also focused on the Star Trek set where they detail that their goal is conservation over preservation. I find this kind of odd, I’ve always felt that preservation was more important but maybe it depends on what kind of artifacts there are.  For example, it makes more sense to conserve pieces of a spacecraft but to preserve unique paintings.

Research and Artifacts

The museum researches many areas such as Aeronautics, Space History, and Earth and Planetary Studies. You can search and learn about different projects, but the information on the main page is focused on Mars and the Mars rover Curiosity. The museum has over 60,000 artifacts and over 20,000 of them are searchable on their online data base. Of the museum’s 60,000 artifacts only 20% of them are on display, and most of the 20% are the large air and space crafts. While most of the unseen objects are in storage a number of them are on loan to other institutions.

Engaging the Audience

The Spotlight Event page features events that the museum puts on.  For example, this Saturday they are sponsoring a stargazing event with astronomers which includes a program for children and access to telescopes. The How Things Fly tab focuses on educating children through interactive activities and also features “Explainers” who are high school and college students who can answer questions about flight. The idea of the “Explainers” is cool; I think it is a great idea to encourage young adults to be a part of the scientific community.

Final Thoughts

Overall, I liked the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum Website.  I found their organization easy to follow and the information interesting.  It made me want to go back to the museum and find the specific artifacts that were featured on the website.  I think the main goal of the museum’s website is to bring visitors to the museum.  They do this by providing information on interesting subjects that leave you wanting to learn more.  The major flaw for me was the collections page, it wouldn’t always load correctly, and you couldn’t use the search boxes to narrow down your search without the page freezing.  Something else that bothered me was that they liked to showcase exhibits that the general public knows about.  For example, they focus on the Mars Rover and Apollo 11.  Most people who are going to attend the museum already know a little about these subjects, while I find them both very interesting I would maybe like to learn more about less known artifacts and current research.