Displaying Objects

Drafting tools including protractor, set squares and compass used by H.Kann circa 1920-1940.
Drafting tools including protractor, set squares and compass used by H.Kann circa 1920-1940.
Image: Museum Victoria
Source: Museum Victoria collection: MN 011329

Following are some questions that museum exhibition designers are frequently asked. The answers will give you some ideas about how to display a variety of objects.

Quilt

Q: My object is a quilt that my mother made me before we came to Australia. I'm wondering how to display it. Should I hang it?

A: The size of the quilt will be a factor in making a decision about how to display it. Hanging it would be good – most galleries and museums that display quilts hang them because it best demonstrates the work and allows visitors an opportunity to 'step back' and see the overall pattern easily. You could, however, display it on a large table. Place boxes of different heights underneath it, to give a 'stepped' effect.

Tools

Q: My object is a set of drawing tools from Holland. They are in a thin black case. The tools themselves are in small hollows exactly the right size for each tool, with the top of each tool beneath the surface of the hollow. What would be the best way to display these?

A: Your tool case sounds very interesting. How best to display the box and its contents will depend on a few factors. Is the lid is attached to the case? If so you might like to leave it open for displaying purposes but put a support behind it so you don't place pressure on the hinge. If the lid is separate from the base of the box, display the contents and place the lid next to the box. Does the lid have any engraving or decoration on it? If so, be sure to show this side of the lid. As the box is black, you might like to put a lighter piece of fabric under the box for display purposes – in this way the box and its contents will 'stand out'.

Finger puppet

Q: I am presenting a finger puppet, which is not that precious but it is a little fragile. Some beads and sequins are missing, and some hanging loose. I was wondering how I should present it?

A: Displaying fragile objects can be tricky. How best to display the puppet will depend on a few factors. If the puppet is reasonably sturdy, you may like to present it standing up. To support the puppet, gently put a tissue or cotton wool inside it. Place a piece of contrasting fabric underneath and behind the puppet to highlight it. If the puppet is very fragile, however, you may need to use another method of display. Scrunch a piece of tissue paper into a loose ball. Put a shallow 'well' or indentation in the paper. Cover the paper with a piece of fabric and place the puppet in the shallow 'well'.

Costume

Q: My object is a red traditional Vietnamese costume. It is a long top and pants. How should I display it?

A: The way we display objects in the museum often depends on the amount of space we have available. I would recommend displaying the costume so that people can see it properly, but you may only have room to have it folded. When you display it, it is also important to have some information about the object, such as who it belongs to, when and why it was brought to Australia, which part of Vietnam it is from and how old it is. If you have a picture of someone wearing the costume or another one like it, it could be interesting to display this with the object.

Sash

Q: My object is a sash from Timor. It is a metre long and you could put it around your neck. It also has different colours. How should I display it?

A: This sounds like a very colourful object. It would be great if you could display it so that people can see all of the different colours. It would also be interesting if you can tell people how it is worn, perhaps with photos of people wearing sashes from Timor.

Drawing

Q: My object is a chalk drawing of my grandmother. It is not framed and is very precious. How can I display it without damaging it and without it being in a frame?

A: I think the best way to display your drawing would be to cut a piece of stiff (preferably acid free) cardboard to the same size, and to stick a large photo corner at each corner. You can attach a string at the back of the cardboard for hanging using strong adhesive tape. Then slip the four corners of the drawing into the photo corners. You can buy acid free board at an art supplier and photo corners from a camera or photo development shop. Beware of those perspex and clip sets, as the chalk is a loose medium and the static electricity on the surface of the perspex will tend to pull the chalk away from the paper. This way you do not have to stick anything onto the drawing, which could tear or stain it.