Museum Graphics: Tell Me A Story

“Museums collect for various stated purposes,” reads the Charlotte Museum of History’s “About the Collection” opening statement, “but in the end all the objects and documents serve the same purpose—to tell a story.”

The Charlotte Museum of History has been telling stories of the Charlotte, NC, region since 1976. And, for the past three years, Charlotte, NC-based ACI Design has been helping the museum spin its tales in both permanent and rotating displays.

“Initially, we responded to a museum inquiry about graphics,” said Dain Richie, president, ACI Design. “With additional visits, we’d take samples of Alcan products—some of which the museum had never seen—and let them know what we could do with them.”

The Charlotte Museum of History encompasses 36,000 square feet, including three galleries and a changing second-floor exhibit space that takes the Charlotte/Mecklenburg County story from the 18th century to the 20th century. The current building is situated on eight acres and is home to the Hezekiah Alexander House—the oldest surviving house in Mecklenburg County built in 1774 and listed on the National Register for Historic Places. The museum’s permanent collection consists of approximately 7,000 artifacts and 6,000 archival items.

“Our goal is to be able to tell stories through these artifacts,” said Lee Goodan, exhibit coordinator, the Charlotte Museum of History. “We not only collect and preserve, we research and interpret these pieces for the public.”

Historical facts and interpretations are posted on signage describing each exhibit piece—with Sintra graphic display board often selected for mounting or direct printing.

“We had used Sintra in the past, and it was our ‘go-to’ substrate,” said Goodan. “Sintra gives me some flexibility to be able to switch out objects. Labels mounted on Sintra as the substrate are easy to change out with Velcro fasteners.”

“Sintra is a natural for exhibits,” said Richie. “It’s not as heavy or brittle as acrylic, and it’s a well-known brand. Clients ask for Sintra by name.”

Sintra was selected as the mounting substrate for “Charlotte Stories: Our Collections, Your Treasures,” a temporary display that opened in 2008 featuring area family heirlooms both owned by and loaned to the museum. ACI Design used 3mm and 6mm bright white Sintra to mount 34 object labels, 13 reader rail labels, six large text panels, and three small text panels for this exhibit that features a wide variety of artifacts from early medical instruments and pottery to antique furniture and long rifles.

“Charlotte Neighborhoods,” a rotating featured exhibit that showcases changing neighborhoods, opened in 2006. This exhibit highlights the featured neighborhood’s earliest history, its present day and projected future, according to Goodan, who said the neighborhood’s challenges also are explored as well as its architecture.

Text panels featuring photos, maps and postcards depicting the neighborhood are mounted on 3mm bright white Sintra. The panels measure 24x48 inches “to keep the weight down,” according to Richie, who floats exhibit panels off museum walls utilizing cleats made from 12mm bright white Sintra and bonded to the panel backs.

To date, this rotating exhibit has featured four Charlotte neighborhoods.

“It’s easy to change out this exhibit in less than 30 minutes,” said Goodan. “The Sintra makes these panels lightweight, so they’re easy to move and install. As the panels get larger, it becomes even more flexible.”

Sintra also served as the signage substrate for “Charlotte’s Pole to Pole Flag” permanent exhibit that opened in 2006. This display commemorates a Charlotte flag’s visit to the South Pole in 1964 with the late George Melvin Ivey. The flag visited the North Pole in 1985 with Ivey’s nephew, Ervin M. Jackson, Jr. ACI Design mounted seven rectangular, four routed oval signs and five routed round signs on 6mm bright white Sintra to provide explanatory information about this collection, which is preserved within an acrylic exhibit case.

In the “Mecklenberg: Crossroads of Commerce” permanent exhibit the museum combined artifacts depicting the area’s economy from both the 19th and 20th centuries. ACI Design updated the existing casework for the “Mecklenberg Crossroads of Commerce” exhibit with Dibond. “Dibond is archival and safe to use in our cases,” said Goodan. “It was shaped over the existing structure. Routed Dibond was used to cover MDF (medium-density fiberboard) columns in free-standing shapes.”

“We recommend Dibond when more structural strength is needed,” said Richie. “We can bend and shape it, while eliminating fasteners and framing systems. We also like the finishes available on Dibond.” The images were UV-direct printed onto the Dibond panels.

Gatorplast was chosen to create back graphic panels in the cases. Images were directed printed on 3/16-inch white Gatorplast graphic display board.

“Gatorplast is conservation quality and safe to use around artifacts,” said Goodan. “Mecklenberg Crossroads of Commerce” showcases were finished with nine headers; and, five various-sized text panels mounted on 3mm bright white Sintra were installed throughout the gallery.