Museology Master of Arts Program

January 23, 2019

Power Tools and Powerful Words: A Student Perspective on Exhibition Development

All of the last minute, nervous energy fueled tweaks were completed. The signage was adjusted to perfection, the interactive elements were tested and found to be working seamlessly, and the glass of the display cases was as polished as it ever would be. It was opening night of “If You Have Any Regard for Me Left: Writing Home from the Klondike Gold Rush,” an exhibit that was the result of a long-standing partnership between the UW Museology program and the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park and Museum – Seattle Unit. This partnership gives Museology students the unique opportunity to work in teams to design and install their own temporary exhibition at the Klondike Gold Rush Museum.

This year, second-year students Caleb Stockham, Katelyn Johnson, Nicole Jarvis, and Gabrielle Friesen debuted an exhibition that chronicles the complex relationship between historic Klondike gold rush settlers and their mail.

Gabrielle Friesen leveling out labels on the walls of the Kerr Room at the Klondike.

Gabrielle Friesen leveling out labels on the walls of the Kerr Room at the Klondike.

Gabrielle Friesen had been involved with the exhibition since its beginning in the introductory Seminar in Museum Exhibition course. I spoke with Gabrielle about her experience working on this exhibit. She recalls jumping at the chance to work with the Klondike staff on this particular topic because of a personal connection to it.

Friesen explained, “I used to deliver mail as a city carrier assistant prior to graduate school, and it was unfortunately a largely negative experience. (I want to make it very clear that the USPS is a vital institution, regardless of my negative experiences… Support your local post office! Send some snail mail! Ship through them!) Being a mail carrier had been one of my dream jobs since I was little, so it was a bummer when it didn’t work out for me. Part of what I enjoyed about the exhibit experience was getting to work with mail in some capacity again, and of course, all the fun complaining I got to do about my love-hate relationship with the mail.”

Friesen assembling a complex mount for an unusual artifact – a dog harness.

Friesen assembling a complex mount for an unusual artifact – a dog harness.

For Friesen, the benefits of working on this exhibition go beyond nurturing a personal passion. This experience allowed her to build professional skills and pursue long-term career goals. “I’m interested in both exhibit fabrication and label writing,” Friesen noted, “and through this project was able to do both.” Friesen’s extensive work on the exhibit labels, including drafting all of the initial text and being involved in the editing, mirrors her accomplishments in fabrication. “In the process of install I made two mounts, and used some power tools to help build a stand for the sled. While I think it’s healthy to be a little scared of power tools, this experience helped me get more comfortable in using them.” In addition to imparting concrete fabrication skills and increasing her comfort with different installation methods, “exhibit design and installation was a good way to explore and get hands-on experience in to areas I had really been wanting to break into, and now I have really solid practical experience in both label writing and fabrication.”

Stockham, Friesen, and Johnson (L-R) working on installation.

Stockham, Friesen, and Johnson (L-R) working on installation.

Furthermore, the process of developing and installing “If You Have Any Regard for Me Left” strengthened feelings of community within the Museology program for Friesen. She speaks fondly of the bonding experience that collaborating on this exhibit created. “[Co-creator] Katelyn Johnson and I wrote some letters to each other stemming from our exhibit on the mail. Our whole team was really supportive of one another, and every class and work session was enjoyable because we got to spend time together. I’ll really miss having that built-in time with all of them. I also grew closer with faculty in Museology, uncovering their secret post office past.”

Friesen’s relationship with the larger Seattle community was also impacted by her work on this exhibit. “Overall, it was nice to work at and have the connection with the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park – Seattle Unit. It felt grounding to work there, like I was a part of the broader city. I think it sometimes can be hard to feel a connection or sense of place within a city that you’re only in for grad school, and rarely get to be in because of grad school, so I was grateful for the sense of connection the project brought.”

Friesen has some advice for current and future students in the exhibits course: “Legit, just have fun. If there’s something you want to do or get experience in, take charge of it and go for it. Be a supportive teammate, and be flexible in your approach to the project.”

-Dorothy Svgdik, Museology communications assistant

 

What better way to end this blog post than a shameless plug? Be sure to check out “If You Have Any Regard for Me Left: Writing Home from the Klondike Gold Rush” and see in person the hard work of UW Museology students, instructor Taylor Felt, and the Klondike staff. The exhibition is currently on view in the Kerr Room of the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park – Seattle Unit.