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Home » ARTSY FARTSY » JEAN SHEPHERD Kid stories–flies & (156) ARTSY temporary exhibits

JEAN SHEPHERD Kid stories–flies & (156) ARTSY temporary exhibits

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At that point somebody else drives into the station and he says, “Wait, I’ll be right with you.”  He goes over to a real customer.

It’s getting hotter than hell.  The heat is banging down.  I figure I’m going to be a real big-timer.  So I walk over to this large drink cooler and open it up.  There’s ice in there with about five-hundred different types of pop.  So I call out to Dorothy, “Hey, Dorothy, do you want something to drink?”

She says, “No.”

Well, I’m committed, so I reach in and grab a bottle of this stuff.  I pick some orange.  I open it up and I start drinking.  Oh, god, it tastes cold and great!  I take another big slug of it.  Oh, wow!

I go casually over and lean on the passenger door window of the car.  I say, “This is really a great day we’re having, you know?  It’s going to be so fantastic.”  I’m really feeling my oats.  I say, “You know, baby, I’ve been looking at you for a long time, and boy oh boy!”

And she looks at me.

Kid story fly finale to come.

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PAPER BIRDS, LA GUARDIA’S HAT, & ROACHES

At the Museum of Natural History, besides the years’-long intensity of designing and supervising installation of such permanent exhibit halls as  Reptiles & Amphibians, Margret Mead Hall of Pacific Peoples, and Peoples of South America, I designed scores of large and small temporary exhibits. The large temporaries could run thousands of square feet, and the small movable ones the size of a single exhibit case placed in the museum’s main entrance hall.

Commenting on the differences between permanent and temporary, for Curator, the museum professional journal, I wrote:

I can be more audacious in these exhibits. They exist for a few short days to catch a passing current of public attention and then disappear. Why not experiment? Take a chance. Do something different. Surprise, intrigue, amuse; it’s a good way to teach. And it’s a good way for me to learn new things in solving each design problem I set myself. The knowledge acquired in the experiments pays off in very definite but quieter ways in the big exhibits. The bigger projects must be creative too, but in them we must also wear our Sunday clothes and keep our fancy a bit more under control.

One of the medium-size temporary exhibit spaces is a hallway seventy-five feet long by fourteen feet wide, with a dogleg to the right. I worked with the curator who supervised summer research about terns on the museum’s small Great Gull Island, out near the end of New York’s Long Island. Besides the varied stuffed birds and equipment to exhibit, I commented that we needed more three-dimensional material. Our copy editor suggested that entomologist Alice Gray, who was an origami expert, could ask her group of origami enthusiasts to fold a batch of paper terns for us. I specified sea-blue paint for the lower part of the walls and sky-blue for the upper, and we installed hundreds of paper birds (their cast shadows flickering in flight from slight air currents), swarming above.

For a continuing series of Exhibits of the Month, I had two small reusable cases available, one of which was rectangular with a main viewing area about seven feet wide, three feet deep, and six feet high. One month I worked with Amazon Indian ethnologist, Dr. Robert Carneiro who, for his “Return to the Kuikuro” exhibit, as a major feature I displayed his hammock in which, one night while asleep, he got bloodied in an attack by vampire bats.

Another time, my good friend, Peggy Cooper, the museum’s exhibit copy editor, proposed we do an exhibit of well-known peoples’ hats as representative of some aspect of their notoriety. I remember little of the details except that lenders to the exhibit specified strict rules on handling the hats. Except for the archives for New York’s Mayor La Guardia (famous for his fedora and for, in 1945 during a newspaper strike, reading the Sunday funnies on the radio to satisfy us kids).

When I went to pick up his hat, I was given it in a brown paper bag–which was crumpled and soiled. I think the Mayor, affectionately known as “The Little Flower,” would have been amused.

Mayor La Guardia

with his Son and his Hat.

Another month, working with scientific assistant Alice Gray of origami fame, I again used the larger, rectangular case. (Because of her scientific specialty in insects, with which she toured New York City’s grammar schools, she’d become known as “The Bug Lady.”) She had an impressive collection of toys in the form of bugs, and it amused her that toy manufacturers, uncaring of scientific correctness, often produced faulty products—for example making them with the wrong number of legs—with a light tone of chastisement, it’s those inaccurate toys that we exhibited.

I frequently used a small, vertical, cylindrical-shape case with a front glass door with two side glasses and, below, a small, angled, glass-covered, rear-illuminated area meant for a back-lighted introductory text panel.

From month to month, subject matter varied greatly. For an exhibit mourning human guilt in the extinction of passenger pigeons, I used the small angled text area as a sateen-lined casket for two old study skins, their bodies stretched out, eyes nothing but small cotton tufts. Another time, for the subject of whales and perfume, I included a piece of ambergris, the gastric juice of whales used to make perfume, positioned in the small angled area so that visitors could get a sniff of the stuff.

Alice Gray, Scientific Assistant and Bug Lady

My favorite memory of Alice Gray, the Bug Lady, is that, upon visiting her in her enormous office/ storeroom/live-specimen-room, one first became aware of numerous terrariums—homes to a large variety of common and enormous, live cockroaches. Of course, in the circular exhibit case, positioned prominently in the main entrance hall, we exhibited some of her live ” pets”–shown in one of her closed terrariums, emphasizing their adaptability and sturdiness. She titled the display:

ROACHES ARE HERE TO STAY

Before the opening to the public in the main entrance hall, as she was being interviewed by the press and TV about roaches, she noted a familiar smell. She scurried over to the case to find that a couple of baby roaches had escaped and a TV guy, who, to liven up the reportage, just happened to bring an aerosol can with him, had sprayed her little darlings with a lethal dose. She, of course, was outraged.

One should always have respect for other people’s passions.

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