Exhibit Resource List

The Great Big Exhibit Resource List

The idea for this list started with Kathy Krafft as part of a conference presentation she gave several years ago. Shortly after, I offered to host the initial collection of sources on my website. Over time, the list expanded with my input and that of the late David Taylor, and was included in the “Handbook for Small Science Centers” book. Now, the Great Big Exhibit Resource List has become a way to keep track of “trusted sources” for museum exhibit designers, developers and fabricators, and is freely shared with colleagues. The GBER List continues to expand with input from museum “makers” from around the world. If you have additions, corrections, or comments, please send them to: info@orselli.net and help this resource grow!


1. Visit your local stores, and set up accounts; you may get contractor’s rates.

Check out plumbing and electrical and hardware and lumber and paint supply stores. Sometimes places like plumbing supply stores will let you behind the counters to look in their bins. Most stores are very supportive of local non-profit organizations, and enjoy the challenges of helping you when you are doing weird things in building exhibits.

2. Find out when it is quiet to get extra suggestions—not first thing in the morning when contractors are getting the parts they need for the day.

3. Never categorize or stereotype your stores—in exhibit fabrication you may well find what you need at strange, unexpected places. So visit, and see what is in stock at auto supply places (12 volt fans for your hand-powered generator, for instance) floor covering, fabric stores, office supply places, etc.


(If you don’t have these catalogs, get them! These suppliers have local branches throughout the country. Check the phone book or the website to locate your nearest outlet. Note: Addresses and telephone numbers often change! Use websites to confirm contact information.)

McMaster-Carr: www.mcmaster.com 3500 pages of hardware, plumbing (including clear PVC pipe and fittings), electrical, materials (metal, plastics, etc. delivered the next day usually. AMAZING collection.

Grainger: www.grainger.com

MSC: www.mscdirect.com



Enabling Devices: www.enablingdevices.com
385 Warburton Avenue
Hastings-on-Hudson, NY 10706
(800) 832-8697

Flaghouse: www.flaghouse.com
601 FlagHouse Drive
Hasbrouck Heights, NJ 07604
(800) 793-7900

Maxi-Aids: www.maxiaids.com
42 Executive Blvd.
Farmingdale, NY 11735
(800) 522-6294

Patterson Medical: www.sammonspreston.com
4 Sammons Court
Bolingbrook, IL 60440
(630) 226-1300

Special Needs Toys: www.specialneedstoys.com/usa/
4537 Gibsonia Road
Gibsonia, PA15044
(800) 467-6222



Perma-Bound: www.perma-bound.com
617 E.Vandalia Road,
Jacksonville, Illinois 62650
(800) 637-6581

San Val Incorporated: www.sanval.com
895 Frisco Street
Steelville, MO 65565
(800) 325-4465



Cole-Palmer: www.coleparmer.com
625 East Bunker Court
Vernon Hills, Illinois 60061
(800) 323-4340

Fisher: www.fisherscientific.com
Liberty Lane
Hampton, NH 03842
(603) 926-5911

Flinn Scientific: www.flinnsci.com
P.O. Box 219
Batavia, IL 60510
(800) 452-1261

Sargent-Welch: www.sargentwelch.com
P.O. Box 5229
Buffalo Grove, IL 60089
(800) 727-4368

Sigma-Aldrich: Unusual chemicals.



BrightSign: Digital signage solutions
12980 Saratoga Ave., Ste. D
Saratoga, CA 95070
(408) 852-9263

Eletech Electronics: www.eletech.com
16025 Kaplan Avenue
City of Industry, CA 91744

Stop & Listen: www.stoplisten.com
7515 Flint Road S.E.
Calgary, Alberta CANADA T2H 1G3
(800) 387-2365

Technovision – Custom sensors and controllers. www.technovision.com
933 Canada Ct.
City of Industry, CA 91748
(626) 839-1488



Beyond Digital Print: www.beyonddigitalprint.com
6401 E. Rogers Circle
Boca Raton, FL
(561) 922-5250

Corbis: www.Corbis.com

Display Creatives: Pop-Up Displays and printing. www.displaycreatives.com

Fotosearch Stock Photography: www.fotosearch.com
21155 Watertown Road
Waukesha, WI 53186
(262) 717-0740 (800)827-3920
(Also check out the sister site, www.canstockphoto.com)

Getty Images: www.Gettyimages.com

MegaPrint: Large format print specialists www.megaprint.com

MorgueFile: www.morguefile.com Free images for your use in your creative work.

MVP Visuals: www.mvpvisuals.com
Suppliers of high-impact visuals and custom branded displays.

The Public Domain Project: www.pond5.com free Completely free public domain images and videos

Stella Color: www.stellacolor.com Sustainable Printing Solutions

Stockphoto.com: www.istockphoto.com

Shutterstock: www.shutterstock.com

Walsworth Printing and Publishing: www.walsworth.com
Printers of custom books and periodicals.



(Visit your local schools- they have lots of catalogs!)

Acorn Naturalists: www.acornnaturalists.com
Good source of animal footprints and casts, plus lots of other biology and botany stuff.

Childcraft: www.childcrafteducation.com
P.O. Box 3239
Lancaster, PA 17604
(800) 631-5652

Creative Health Products: www.chponline.com Weight scales, other health products.
5148 Saddle Ridge Road
Plymouth, MI 48170
(800) 742-4478

Discount School Supply www.discountschoolsupply.com

Educational Innovations: www.teachersource.com
362 Main Avenue
Norwalk, CT 06851
(203) 229-0730

Edmund Scientific: www.scientificsonline.com Magnets, polarizing sheet, all kinds of science stuff.

Edmund Industrial Optics: www.edmundoptics.com lenses, optical parts.

ETA/Cuisenaire: www.etacuisenaire.com Math manipulatives, posters.
500 Greenview Court
Vernon Hills, IL 60061
(800) 875-9643

Haba: www.habausa.com

Health Edco: www.healthedco.com

Lakeshore: www.lakeshorelearning.com Early childhood materials.

Woodworks Ltd: www.craftparts.com
4521 Anderson Blvd.
Fort Worth, TX 76117
(817) 581-5230



Adafruit Industries: www.adafruit.com
80 Nassau Street, #4C
New York, NY 10038
(646) 248-7882

Allied: www.alliedelec.com
7410 Pebble Drive
Fort Worth, Texas 76118

Anatek: www.anatekcorp.com Video and TV related electronics.
P.O. Box 1200
100 Merrimack Road
Amherst, NH 03031

BG Micro: www.bgmicro.com
3024 Lincoln Ct
Garland, Texas 75041
(800) 276-2206

Digi-key: www.digikey.com
River Falls, MN 56

Happ Controls: www.happcontrols.com Pushbuttons, pinball accessories, etc.
106 Garlisch Drive
Elk Grove, IL 60007
(888) BUY-HAPP

Hosfelt Electronics: www.hosfelt.com
2700 Sunset Blvd.
Steubenville, OH 43952
(888) 264-6464

Jameco: www.jameco.com
1355 Shoreway Road
Belmont, CA 94002
(800) 831-4242

MakerSHED: www.makershed.com DIY Kits + Tools + Books + Fun from the MAKE Magazine folks

Markertek: www.markertek.com Cameras, cables, tools, audio equipment.
Great source for video production equipment and unusual stuff.
812 Kings Highway PO Box 397
Saugerties, New York 12477
(800) 522-2025

Mouser: www.mouser.com
1000 North Main Street
Mansfield, Texas 76063
(800) 346-6873

Newark: www.newark.com
4801 N. Ravenswood
Chicago, IL 60640-4496
(773) 784-5100

Radio Shack: www.radioshack.com

Ramsey Electronics: www.ramseyelectronics.com
Good source of electronics kits that can be turned into exhibits.
590 Fishers Station Dr.
Victor, NY 14564
(800) 446-2295

Solid State Advanced Controls: www.ssac.com
Sometimes the only source for hard-to find electronic timers and other modules that do switching, current measuring, etc. generally for 120VAC circuits.

SparkFun Electronics: www.sparkfun.com
6175 Longbow Drive
Suite 200
Boulder, CO 80301
(303) 284-0979

String Pots: www.stringpot.com
String Potentiometers = Potentiometer + Spring-Loaded Pulley.

Supercircuits: www.supercircuits.com Video and security equipment.
One Supercircuits Plaza
Liberty Hill, Texas 78642

Tapeswitch: www.tapeswitch.com
100 Schmitt Boulevard
Farmingdale, NY 11735
(631) 630-0442



SketchUp: www.sketchup.com Excellent free rendering program.



80/20 Inc: www.8020.net “The Industrial Erector Set”
1701 South 400 East
Columbia City, IN 46725
(260) 248-8030

FlexPVC: www.flexpvc.com Amazing array of PVC shapes and fittings.

MayTec: www.maytecinc.com
901 Wesemann Drive
West Dundee, IL 60118
(847) 429-0321

MicroRAX: www.microrax.com Miniature extruded aluminum t-slot framing
Twintec, Inc.
1510 Boundary Blvd., Suite 100
Auburn, WA 98001
(800) 979-9645

Octanorm: www.octanormusa.com
701 Interstate West Parkway
Lithia Springs, GA 30122
(800) 995-2995

Parker’s Industrial Profile Systems: http://bit.ly/e8RBYm
6035 Parkland Blvd.
Cleveland, OH 44124
(216) 896-3000



Fake-Foods.com: www.fake-foods.com
204 North El Camino Real, #432
Encinitas, CA 92024

Hubert: www.hubert.com Display supplies.

Incredible Inedibles: www.incredibleinedibles.net

Iwasaki Images: www.iwasaki-images.com
630 Maple Ave.
Torrance, CA 90503
(800) 323-9921

Forbex: www.forbex.com Fake grass.

(Childcraft also sells inexpensive collections of fake foods.)



Aircraft Spruce & Specialty: www.aircraft-spruce.com
Fiberglass supplies, Kevlar, aviation instruments, the entire world of aviation fasteners.

Fiberglass Coatings: www.fgci.com (in St. Petersburg, FL) A great source for
fiberglassing supplies, casting resins, and knowledge.

3201 28th Street N.
St. Petersburg, FL 33713
(727) 327-8117

Fibre Glast: www.fibreglast.com
95 Mosier Pkwy Brookville, OH 45309

Polytek: www.polytek.com Rubber moldmaking supplies, casting materials.



Gerbert Limited: www.gerbertltd.com Recycled flooring materials.

715 Fountain Ave.
P.O. Box 4944
Lancaster, PA 17604-4944
(800) 828-9461

Lees Carpets: www.leescarpets.com Many sustainable flooring choices. NeoFloor is especially good for children’s areas.

500 TownPark Lane
Suite #400
Kennesaw, GA 30144
(800) 523-5647

Pirelli Flooring: www.artigo.com Interesting flooring products.



Get Smart Products: www.pfile.com
Super cheap frames!

IKEA: www.ikea.com
It’s hard to find more attractive and inexpensive frames than those from IKEA.

Light Impressions: www.lightimpressionsdirect.com
P.O. Box 787
Brea, CA 92822
(800) 828-6216

Pictureframes.com: www.pictureframes.com
2103 Brentwood Street
High Point, NC 27263
(800) 332-8884



ATD-AMERICAN: www.atd.com
135 Greenwood Ave.
Wyncote, PA 19095
(215) 576-1000

Community Playthings: www.communityplaythings.com
PO Box 2
Ulster Park NY 12487
(800) 777-4244

DEMCO: www.demco.com
P.O. Box 7488
Madison, WI 53707
(800) 962-4463

Gaylord Library Supplies: www.gaylord.com
Kid-sized furniture.
(800) 448-6160

Mockett: www.mockett.com
Hardware, pulls, wire grommets.

Smith System: www.smithsystem.com
PO Box 860415
Plano, Texas 75086
(800) 328-1061

Worthington Direct: www.worthingtondirect.com
6301 Gaston Ave., Suite 670
Dallas, TX 75214
(800) 599-6636



Atlanta Belting: www.atlbelt.com Conveyor belt– smooth, textured.

Boston Gear: www.bostongear.com
14 Hayward Street
Quincy, MA 02171
(888) 999-9860

Emerson/Morse/Browning: www.emerson-ept.com
WM Berg: www.wmberg.com
499 Ocean Avenue
East Rockaway, NY 11518



ABET Laminati: www.abetlaminati.com Lumiphos laminate material.

Educational Innovations: www.teachersource.com Check out their glow-in-the-dark pigments.
362 Main Avenue
Norwalk, CT 06851
(203) 229-0730

Flinn Scientific: www.flinnsci.com Small sheets and paint.
P.O. Box 219
Batavia, IL 60510
(800) 452-1261

Glow Inc: www.glowinc.com

Hanovia: www.hanovia-uv.com
6 Evans Street
Fairfield, NJ 07083
(973) 651-5510

Jessup Manufacturing: www.globritesystem.com
2815 West Route 120
McHenry, IL 60051
(815) 385-6650

Shannon Luminous Materials: www.blacklite.com
304 A North Townsend
Santa Ana, CA 92703
(800) 543-4485



Divnik International: www.SpiralWishingWells.com
321 Alexandersville Road
Miamisburg, Ohio 45342
(937) 384-0003



Build it Green: www.builditgreen.org

Environmental Home Store: www.environmentalhomestore.com
The Environmental Home Store
550 Carpenter Lane at Greene Street
Philadelphia, PA 19119
(215) 844-GREEN

Green Exhibits: www.greenexhibits.org

Center for Neighborhood Technology, Green building resources:

Yemm & Hart: www.yemmhart.com Recycled building materials.
1417 Madison
Marquand, MO 63655
(573) 783-5434



Ballew Saw and Tool: www.ballewsawandtool.com Sharpens saw blades, sells blades and bits.
325 S. Kimbrough
Springfield, MO 65806
(800) 288-7483

Carbide.com: www.carbide.com Router bits, etc.

Cherry Tree: www.cherrytree-online.com Wood balls, parts.
408 S Jefferson Street
Belmont, OH 43718
(800) 848-4363

Enco Tools: www.use-enco.com Tools, general selection & large tools.

Fastenal: www.fastenal.com Industrial and construction supplies.
2001 Theurer Blvd.
Winona, Minnesota 55987
(507) 454-5374

FastCap: www.fastcap.com Check out “speed tape”.

Grizzly: www.grizzly.com Large and small tools, bits, supplies, wood samples.

Hafele: www.hafele.com
Huge assortment of hardware for furniture making.

Harbor Freight: www.harborfreight.com
Inexpensive tools ,variable quality on some brands.

JC Whitney: www.jcwhitney.com Automotive supplies.

Klingspor: www.klingspor.com
Woodworking: sandpaper in bulk (belts, drums, disks, sheets.)

Lee Valley: www.leevalley.com Woodworking tools, also cheap source for small neodymium magnets.
P.O. Box 1780
Ogdensburg, NY 13669
(800) 871-8158

Lehman’s: www.lehmans.com Old time tools, blacksmithing supplies.
One Lehman Circle
P.O. Box 321
Kidron, OH 44636
(888) 438-5346

Northern Tools: www.NorthernTool.com
2800 Southcross Drive West
Burnsville, Minnesota 55306
(800) 221-0516

Roberts Plywood: www.roberts-plywood.com Curved plywood, large wooden tubes.

Southco: www.southco.com Latches, cabinet hardware.

Tool Parts Direct: www.toolpartsdirect.com Parts for tools- with diagrams for identifying the part!
6620 F Street
Omaha, NE 68117
(866) 597-3850

West Marine: www.westmarine.com Marine supplies.

Woodcraft: www.woodcraft.com Tools and supplies.
(800) 535-4482

Woodworker’s Supply: www.woodworker.com



Bulbs.com: www.bulbs.com
40 Jackson Street
Worcester, MA 01608
(888) 455-2800

Bulbman: www.bulbman.com

Interlight: www.interlight.biz
7939 New Jersey Avenue
Hammond, IN 46323
(800) 743-0005

Topbulb: www.topbulb.com
5204 Indianapolis Boulevard
East Chicago, IN 46312
(866) TOP-BULB

UV SYSTEMS: www.uvsystems.com A great source for UV lighting and components.
16605 127th Avenue SE
Renton, WA 98058-5549



Adams Magnetic: www.adamsmagnetic.com

Dowling-Miner: www.dowlingmagnets.com

Kling Magnetics: www.kling.com Magnetic Paint.
343 Rt. 295 – PO Box 348
Chatham, NY 12037
(518) 392-4000

Force Field: www.wondermagnet.com
2606 West Vine Dr.
Fort Collins, CO 80521
(877) 944-6247



McNichols: www.mcnichols.com Perforated sheet metal, steel grating.
5505 West Gray Street
Tampa, FL 33609-1007
(813) 282-3828 x 2100

Murphy-Nolan: www.murphynolan.com

OnlineMetals.com: www.onlinemetals.com Stocks and sells a variety of metals; including small orders
1138 W. Ewing Street
Seattle, WA 98119
(800) 704-2157



Archie McPhee / Accoutrements: www.mcphee.com Wacky products!
2428 NW Market Street
Seattle, WA 98107
(206) 297-0240

Bry-Tech Distributors: www.bry-tech.com Upholstery Materials & Supplies
1143 Haines Street
Jacksonville, FL 32206
(800) 329-7283

Company Folders, Inc. www.companyfolders.com Folders and Presentation Materials
3297 Orchard Lake Rd, Suite 203
Keego Harbor, Michigan 48320
(248) 738-7600

Displays 2 Go: www.displays2go.com Small sign holders, stands, displays.
55 Broad Common Road
Bristol, RI 02809
(800) 572-2194

Engineered Etchings: www.engineeredetchings.com Etched granite and marble plaques and displays
Cookeville, Tennessee 38506
(931) 267-1542

Ecospheres: www.eco-sphere.com Self-contained ecosystem spheres.
4421 N. Romero Rd
Tucson, Arizona 85705
(800) 729-9870

Fake Earth: www.polypavement.com

Freund Cans: www.freundcontainer.com Containers of all sorts.
11535 S. Central Avenue
Alsip, IL 60803

Hobby Express: www.hobbyexpress.com

Hobby People: www.hobbypeople.net Small motors, controllers for models.

JML Direct Optics: www.jmloptical.com Parabolic mirrors.
76 Fernwood Ave.
Rochester, NY 14621
(585) 342-8900

Just Plastic Boxes: www.justplasticboxes.com Plastic boxes of all types.
2535 Bing Miller Lane
Urbana, IA 52345

Library of Congress: American Environmental Photographs

LED Light Stick Art: www.subliminaryartworks.com
Bill Bell
139 Davis Ave
Brookline MA 02445
(617) 277-4719

M. Jacobs & Sons www.mjacobandsons.com All sorts of bottles and jars.
31700 Middlebelt Rd., Suite 165
Farmington Hills, MI 48334
(248) 737-9440

Oriental Trading Company: www.orientaltrading.com Cheap multiples. Craft and party items.

PilotVials.com www.Pilotvials.com Clear and amber glass vials, plastic jars for all your packaging needs.
2965 Valley Vista Drive
Sedona, AZ 86351
(928) 254-0533

Radiant Manufacturing www.radiantmfg.com Giant Sequins and “flutter discs” for Air Cannon exhibits.
(877) 787-8880

Rhode Island Novelty: www.rinovelty.com
19 Industrial Lane
Johnston, RI 02919
(800) 528-5599

Sand & Solutions: www.waupacasand.com
Rubber mulch. (For clean “sandboxes” and playgrounds.)
(715) 258-8566

Scent Machines: www.scentair.com

Stella Color: www.stellacolor.com Images on carpet; interesting mural wallpaper.

Strapworks: www.strapworks.com
All kinds of webbing, strapping ropes, etc.
3170 Elmira Rd.
Eugene, OR 97402
(541) 741-0658

Toysmith: www.toysmith.com

Ultrasonic Mistmakers: www.mainlandmart.com
2535 Durfee Ave.
El Monte, CA 91732
(626) 258-2928



AIN Plastics: www.ainplastics.com

Curbell Plastic: www.curbell.com
7 Cobham Drive
Orchard Park, NY 14127
(716) 667-3377

Outwater Plastics: www.outwater.com
Weird architectural stuff, tee molding in all sizes and shapes and colors, etc.
4 Passaic Street, Wood-Ridge, N.J. 07075
1-888-OUTWATER (688-9283)

United States Plastic: www.usplastic.com
Lots of plumbing parts, tubing.
1390 Neubrecht Rd.
Lima, Ohio 45801-3196



MSDS on line: www.msdssearch.com

Arts, Crafts & Theater Safety: www.artscraftstheatersafety.org



Acorn Naturalists: www.acornnaturalists.com
Good source of animal footprints and casts, plus lots of other biology and botany stuff.

American 3B Scientific: www.a3bs.com
2189 Flintstone Drive, Unit O
Tucker, GA 30084
(770) 492-9111

Arbor Scientific: www.arborsci.com
PO Box 2750
Ann Arbor, MI 48106
(800) 367-6695

Ben Meadows: www.benmeadows.com Forestry/Outdoors supplies, surveying equipment
P.O. Box 5277
Janesville WI USA 53547
(800) 241-6401

C&A Scientific: www.cnascientific.com
7241 Gabe Court
Manassas, VA 20109
(703) 330-1413

Carolina Biological: www.carolina.com Microscope slides, fruit flies and
other critters, lots more.

Copernicus Toys: www.copernicustoys.com
1012 C Druid Ave
Charlottesville VA 22902
(800) 424-3950

Kelvin Scientific: www.kelvin.com
280 Adams Blvd.
Farmingdale, NY 11735
(800) 535-8469

NASCO: www.enasco.com A site for multiple supply catalogs.

PASCO: www.pasco.com Excellent physics supplies and materials.
10101 Foothills Blvd.
Roseville, CA 95747
(800) 772-8700

Pitsco: www.pitsco.com Kits, meters, etc.
915 E. Jefferson
P.O. Box 1708
Pittsburg, KS 66762
(800) 835-0686

Science Kit & Boreal Laboratories: www.sciencekit.com

SEIDAM: www.seidam.com
Kelvin Building
University of Glasgow
University Avenue
G12 8QQ
+44 (0)141 330 2047

Steve Spangler Science: www.stevespanglerscience.com
4400 South Federal Blvd
Englewood, CO 80110
(800) 223-9080

Ward’s Natural Science: www.wardsci.com
PO Box 92912
Rochester, NY 14692
(800) 962-2660



Bowman Displays: www.bowmandisplays.com
648 Progress Avenue
Munster, IN 46321
(800) 922-9250

Dick Blick: www.dickblick.com
P.O. Box 1267
Galesburg, IL 61402
(800) 828-4548

Warwick Products Company: www.warwickproducts.com Store fixtures, displays.



American Science and Surplus: www.sciplus.com Weird collection of small parts.
P.O. Box 1030
Skokie, IL 60076
(847) 647-0011

Herbach and Rademan (H&R): www.herbach.com Cheap motors, blowers, power supplies etc.
353 Crider Avenue
Moorestown, NJ 08057
(800) 848-8001

Retail Closeout Mall: www.retailcloseoutmall.com
11632 Frankstown Road #310
Pittsburgh, PA 15235

Surplus Shed: www.surplusshed.com
1050 Maidencreek Road
Fleetwood, PA 19522
(877) 7-SURPLUS



Ahh.biz: www.ahh.biz Specialized Textile Outfitters.
American Home & Habitat
Route 4, Box 86
Squires, MO 65755
(417) 683-1838

Dazian Fabrics: www.dazian.com Theatrical and Outdoor Fabrics

Fred Krieger Fabrics: www.fredkriegerfabrics.com
420 Jericho Turnpike
Jericho, NY 11753
(800) 892-8142
Pro Sound & Stage Lighting: www.pssl.com Audio, video, party lights.
11070 Valley View Street
Cypress, CA. 90630

Rosco: www.rosco.com Specialized lighting fixtures and gels (colored mylar sheets), hardware.

Rose Brand: www.rosebrand.com Theatrical Supplies

Sam Ash: www.samash.com Musical Instruments, Sound equipment.
(800) 4-SAMASH

Seattle Fabrics: www.seattlefabrics.com Theatrical and Outdoor Fabrics
Seattle, WA. 98103
(206) 525-0670

Sew What?: www.sewwhatinc.com Custom-sewn theatrical drapes and fabrics
1978 Gladwick Street
Rancho Dominguez, CA 90220
(310) 639-6000

ExhibiTricks blog

  • Strandbeest: The Dream Machines of Theo Jansen

    Emily Black Fry is the Lead Interpretation Planner at the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) in Salem, Massachusetts.

    Emily was kind enough to be interviewed for ExhibiTricks about the amazing new exhibition entitled "Strandbeest: The Dream Machines of Theo Jansen" that will be on view at the Peabody Essex Museum from September 19, 2015 until January 3, 2016.  

    Here's what Emily had to say about the development of the show and working with artist Theo Jansen:

    What inspired the Strandbeest exhibition at PEM?

    I have to first emphasize Strandbeest: The Dream Machines of Theo Jansen is one of those exhibition projects museum professionals dream of working on. 

    Dutch artist Theo Jansen combines the practices of art, science, and engineering to construct Strandbeests (beach animals), wind-walking creatures developed through a rigorously trans-disciplinary creative process. His works allow (or in many ways insist) on structures that burst (or crawl) out of the typical exhibition box. The roving nature of the Beests themselves invite opportunities to go outside of the museum and into communities, while also encouraging touching, close looking, and constant locomotion within the Museum. The work itself demands a new kind of exhibition structure and experience, which is why it was such an exciting project to tackle as it poses an array of creative challenges. Strandbeest doesn’t fit tightly into a traditional art museum exhibition box, and that’s why I believe our audiences are responding so well to this show.

    Photo courtesy of the Peabody Essex Museum / Photo by Allison White

    The thematic structure for Strandbeest: The Dream Machines of Theo Jansen is inspired by dreaming— experiences that are imaginative, non-linear, provoke curiosity, and blend the familiar with the unfamiliar. It includes a range of paced experiences involving both the intimate and communal. At its core, this exhibition thrives as a kinetic, active, nomadic, and magical experience that draws visitors closer to Theo’s world. Each experience zone, as we describe them, embodies a distinct level of audience engagement and intimacy while retaining unique characteristics of Theo’s dream: to create a species that will live long after he is gone. To transport audiences into Theo’s world, the exhibition features an array of photo murals and photographs by Lena Herzog, a renowned photographer who has been intimately following and documenting Theo’s work for seven years. Her photography which encompasses everything from Theo’s hands working with PVC, to Beests walking in the wind, to Theo’s work environment, enabled us to create ethereal texture throughout the exhibition.

    In addition to the drool-worthy engagement with the Beests, the project team also had another museum-dream opportunity – we prototyped the exhibition at Miami Art Basel in December 2014 in partnership with Audemars Piguet. This was an exciting experience to actually (really, it happened!) experiment with how to incorporate constant movement interactions and demonstrations in an exhibition experience while also allowing for intimate close looking and space to let curiosity wander. We learned many things through this prototyping phase: from caring for the Beests, to how to effectively create space for interactivity and movement. All of which informed the final presentation at the Peabody Essex Museum.

    We realized when introducing audiences to Theo’s work in Miami that Theo’s mythology and role as a storyteller was a critical element for audiences to engage with the creation and evolution of the Strandbeests. We realized the best way to convey Theo’s story wasn’t through text panels or traditional annotated labels, but rather through film moments for audiences to hear Theo’s perspective on a specific topic or theme. At various points in the exhibition audiences encounter a life-size digital version of Theo animated by proximity screen sensors. In these various zones, which we call “Theo Moments”, he tells the origin story of the Beests, how the Beests are made, how they infect and reproduce through the minds of other makers, and ways in which the Beests have evolved over the past 25 years.

    Can you tell us a little bit about the logistical back-story of the show?

    The exhibition itself has lots of moving parts – literally! It features 7 full-size, large Strandbeests, a field of parts or evolutionary memories as Theo describes, dynamic photography by Lena Herzog, sketches by Theo, and examples of Hackbeests – beests made by other makers inspired by Theo’s work. Two beests named Animaris Ordis, the fundamental walking unit for all Beests, can be pushed and pulled by visitors in the gallery—this is a wildly popular aspect of the exhibition and it offers such a memorable experience for our audiences. Additionally, we run movement demonstrations during the day where we fill the wind stomachs (plastic bottles) of Animaris Suspendisse, Theo’s largest Beest at 42 foot long, or Animaris Umerus Segundus with compressed air and they can be seen walking on their own for a few minutes.

    Our goal for the exhibition experience was to surprise audiences. We wanted them to encounter an unexpected, unconventional, and highly experiential environment where elements seem oddly familiar and interactive. We also wanted audiences to feel immediately welcome to take risks, experiment, explore, and engage in active dialog. Gathering spaces with multifunctional seating in each experience zone allow for groups to orient and be social.

    Photo courtesy of the Peabody Essex Museum / Photo by Walter Silver

    In our opening week, I heard comments that the exhibition feels like a playground or simply like a cool place to hang out – all music to a museum educator’s ears.  Also, we welcome and encourage people to take photos and video of their Strandbeest experience by tagging it with #strandbeest. In fact we prominently feature the deluge of social media posts within the exhibition on an in-gallery social media screen. It’s thrilling to see all of the posts coming in so far and the global Strandbeest conversation writ large. Here’s one of my favorite posts:  https://instagram.com/p/74STDer0fa/?taken-by=neelb4me

    Theo says everything around us is merely an invitation to observe. The exhibition experience captures this spirit by inviting audiences to see the Beests through dynamic uses of light, sound, and touch. The spirit of Theo’s imagination is illuminated throughout each experience zone, specifically with the use of Theo Moments, films showcasing Theo’s storytelling.  Audiences will notice that each has a specific mood, pace, and level of engagement.

    All interpretive text and interactives are open-ended and offer multiple perspectives and questions encouraging a wide range of responses.  Perspectives illuminate the spirit of imagination and move fluidly between art and science. Projections, audio, video and innovative uses of multi-touch technology are employed to animate the environment of the Beests and reveal intersections of elements that investigate his creative thought process.

    Some additional information about the exhibition and artist:  Theo Jansen was born in 1948. He was raised in the beach-side town of Scheveningen, in the Netherlands, and studied physics at the University of Delft. Jansen created the first Strandbeest (“beach animal”) in 1990 and has been working on their evolution ever since. Theo works with PVC, plastic tubing, to move and adapt Strandbeests to their environment in a lifelike way. He continually finds new ways to use this “artistic protein” to evolve more complex and resilient Beests. This exhibition is organized by the Peabody Essex Museum and will travel to the Chicago Cultural Center in Chicago, Illinois and the Exploratorium in San Francisco.  This is the first U.S. tour of Theo Jansen’s Strandbeests.

    What makes the Strandbeest show different from other shows at PEM?

    PEM often takes a experiential point of view when it comes to exhibition design, but this project in particular privileges more than ever a sense of the imaginative and experiential aspects of Theo’s work. The design of the exhibition itself is multifunctional, multidisciplinary, and multisensory. We decided to reshape our approach to traditional curatorial text and instead bring audiences into Theo’s world -- we produced video screens titled “Theo Moments." This exhibition encourages us to imagine how we can deliver information about Theo’s process and psyche in unconventional ways.  Location-activated screens highlight Theo’s dynamic storytelling touching on thematic points in the exhibition (origin story, production, reproduction, evolution).

    Photo courtesy of the Peabody Essex Museum / Photo by Allison White

    We also learned during our presentation at Miami Art Basel the importance of having human interaction within the space, whether it’s someone listening to visitors share their fascination with the beests or helping facilitate the movement of Animaris Ordis, the basic walking unit of the Strandbeest which can be pushed and pulled by anyone. With this in mind we set out to hire a rare breed of individuals to work the gallery – we put out a call for Strandbeest Interpreter/Operators. This team offers not only constant care for the Beests, but also facilitates movement demonstrations of the larger Beests and engages with audiences during all open hours. We managed to hire an exceptional group of Interpreter/Operators who come from equally diverse backgrounds – some are sculptors, engineers, bike mechanics, and biology enthusiasts. But they have one thing in common – they are complete fans of Theo. It’s a dream job for them.

    What was it like working with Theo Jansen? 

    We’ve had the pleasure at PEM to work with several amazing and kind artists, but I must admit Theo is one of the most thoughtful and creative artists around.  I met him when we presented Strandbeest in December 2014 at Miami Art Basel in partnership with Audemars Piguet and I became deeply fascinated about how he takes time to listen and speak to visitors. He truly is thankful for all of his followers and makers who have kept the Strandbeest spirit alive. He’s a true tinkerer at heart, so even leading up the exhibition he was adding new evolutionary features to one of his newest Beests, Animaris Suspendisse; he added a nose feeler and “shove sticks” at either end of the Beest. When the nose feeler detects fluffy or hard packed sand one or the other shove stick pops out, drags on the ground, and the Beest turns either towards the water or towards the dunes. I love that his goal is still top of mind – how to keep improving the Strandbeest for survival.

    What special events or off-site events will happen in conjunction with the exhibition?

    Those who are familiar with Theo’s work probably first encountered his Beests online via YouTube. If you simply google Strandbeest you’ll see endless amounts of footage of Beests self-propelling down the beach where Theo works on the coast of Schevenigen in the Netherlands. We wanted to bring the Beests out to communities in New England and organized a series of pop-up events throughout the area as a preview for the exhibition.  

    Our pop-up walk at Crane Beach in Ipswich, MA drew 15,000 people and basically shut down the area – we were overwhelmed with the response but excited to see people come out for to see the Beests. In addition, we walked Animaris Ordis at Boston City Hall and Dewey Square. They also were shown and walked by Theo at MIT Media Lab following a panel discussion between Theo, Trevor Smith, Curator of the Present Tense, and MIT professor Neri Oxman. The opening events of the exhibition were just as dynamic as the exhibition itself – we hosted a Family Sleepover where Theo read a bedtime story to over 100 children and parents and held an all-night Hackathon where makers worked on a creative challenge given by Theo – you can see a record of their fantastic work here: https://beesthackathon.wordpress.com/

    Strandbeests at Boston City Hall
    Photo courtesy of the Peabody Essex Museum / Photo by Kathy Tarantola

    Tell us about the interactive and hands-on elements in the Strandbeest show?

    The show is almost entirely interactive -- that’s what’s so exciting about Theo’s work. Harnessing Theo’s spirit for rigorous experimentation, audiences will explore through both facilitated demonstrations and unfacilitated interactives the systems and materials that enable the Strandbeests’ movement. For example, we isolated and presented each of the main systems of the Strandbeest into three interactives. Audiences can pump the wind stomachs using a bike pump to get a sense for how they work similar to a pneumatic computer. We also have the leg system available for visitors to observe the singular motion generated by Theo’s 13 holy numbers. And, lastly, we featured the Strandbeest muscles or piston system for visitors to experience how the tubes lengthen which allows for maximum movement. 

    Photo courtesy of the Peabody Essex Museum / Photo by Kathy Tarantola

    Additionally, one aspect of the exhibition focuses on a massive field of parts Theo created during his 25 years working on his Strandbeest dream. He calls his "fossils" evolutionary memories of countless hours of trial and error. Within this field of parts—for example the first crank shaft he made can be found or parts where he experimented with tape and wood joints—we created an interactive that allowed audiences to hold a fossil and upon placing it on a target it animates a projection showcasing Theo’s studio. Theo walks into the screen and begins handling the object in your hand and telling you a story about the fossil itself.

    Field of Strandbeest "Fossils"
    Photo courtesy of the Peabody Essex Museum / Photo by Allison White

    We also commissioned a trans-disciplinary group of key opinion leaders to “platform” around ideas like design, evolution, beach erosion, literary connection, biology and the environment.  Key opinion leaders such as Adam Savage (Visual Effects Artisan and Host of Mythbusters), Lawrence Weschler (writer), Lena Herzog (photographer), Michael Friedman (horologist and historian at Audemars Piguet), and Paola Antonelli (Senior Curator, Department of Architecture and Design, MoMA) were interviewed to discuss issues in their own work and how Strandbeests intersect with it. These short evocative interviews can also be seen in the exhibition.

    What was the most interesting thing you learned about Strandbeests while preparing the show?

    One of the most interesting things I’ve come to realize is that Strandbeests have become a nucleus for unexpected communities of communities to connect and comingle. If you Google or follow #strandbeest you’ll encounter gangs of global thinkers and makers being inspired by Theo and his open-source sensibilities (he’s released on his website the genetic code of the Strandbeests so you can hack your own). These sculptural creatures have become a PVC prism for considering an array of contemporary ideas that smudge lines between disciplines whether it’s biohacking, evolutionary theory, quantum design, or even the craftsmanship of horology – Strandbeests offer a fresh lens for thinking about these new ideas.

    How might this show impact future exhibitions at PEM?

    Strandbeest has infected the Museum in many ways exciting ways. It has impacted how we worked both internally as a team since this project involved a healthy amount of cross-departmental collaboration, as well as influenced how we approach experiential exhibitions in general. This open-ended approach to an exhibition that focuses on the pacing of experiences and pays close attention to the emotional experience of the audience is something the Museum has been working on for a long time, but you really see the integration of design, media, and the work itself coming together successfully in this project. I think this exhibition has also broadened our ability to think about how voice is privileged in the exhibition – is it as shared voice between the curator, artist, and visitor? How can we communicate and tell stories without any text panels? These were some of the creative challenges we imposed on ourselves and we are extremely excited to see how well it is being received by our audiences.  

    Do you have a favorite Strandbeest?

    Ah, now this is a tough one. Whenever Theo is asked this question he succinctly responds with “the one I’m dreaming of next”. With that said, my favorite Strandbeest is twofold. It’s the one in Theo’s mind he’s planning to work on in the upcoming season, as well as the Beests reproducing in the minds of Strandbeest makers and hackers. But, if I had to pick a favorite in the exhibition it has to be Animaris Adulari. This petite Beest is one of the first to be adapted with a sweat system, a lubrication system to flush out the sand and loosen the joints. But, aside from the evolutionary importance of Adulari, this little guy just puts a smile on my face -- it assumes a presence like a pet dog or cat in your house -- you just want to pet the plastic zip ties as you would whiskers.

    Photo courtesy of the Peabody Essex Museum / Photo by Walter Silver

    What do you want visitors to walk away with after seeing the show?

    The Peabody Essex Museum often collaborates with artists and exhibitions that thrive between disciplines and intersections of art, culture, and creativity, and we want our audiences to come away with more questions than answers. This is definitely the case for Strandbeest. We want to incite curiosity about the Theo’s dream for the Strandbeests and walk away with an understanding that storytelling, science, art and engineering can comingle. We hope audiences connect their own experience to the interdisciplinary practices these Beests are birthed out of, including evolution, innovation, science and technology. 

    We also want to foster an open-ended and active dialogue among audiences, Theo, and the Beests. Theo inspires audiences to dream and imagine, even to question accepted boundaries between the living and the inanimate. His open-source approach to sharing his ideas serves as a means of reproduction for Strandbeests—others can make new generations of them. Theo talks frequently about how Strandbeests “infect” the minds of makers -- this is something we hope happens to our audiences. We want visitors to be infected and continue to think about Theo and his work for years to come.

    Photo courtesy of the Peabody Essex Museum / Photo by Walter Silver

    Many thanks to Emily for sharing some of the background and process behind the Strandbeest exhibition!

    If you'd like to find out more about Strandbeest: The Dream Machines of Theo Jansen, just click on over to the Peabody Essex Museum website.

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