I mentioned in an earlier blog post that my first few exhibit design assignments relied a lot on my illustration skills. This next project was being developed at the same time as the previous blog post, in fact it opened 2 days later, my role on this one involved a lot of mural illustrations as well as some other responsibilities.
I can remember starting this project in schematic design inputting vague sizes of artifacts and relying on ambiguous (at best) photos to create representations in CAD that could be used to develop elevations and 3D study models. As the project moved on my role evolved to focus on the several scenic vignettes featured in the exhibit, creating study models, and eventually illustrating the murals associated with each scene. I was also pulled into whatever other task a novice exhibit designer could help with...
This exhibit focused on the history and culture of Native American Cherokee and Creek tribes that originally inhabited the area around now Atlanta, Georgia. The scenic vignettes depicted key aspects of their native culture, as observed by English settlers; and then the native people’s cohabitation with the settlers; and their eventual forced removal from the area.
At the beginning of the exhibit there was an object theater. The show unfolded behind a 6’ tall graphic scrim, the image printed on this scrim was the burial mound illustration above. This was one of several illustrations that was developed using project curator / historian’s input to ensure accuracy. Many mounds are still present today in the area but the huts that were situated on top of them are known to have existed by accounts of early explorers.
Similarly, the town busk scene in the next image was created from historical evidence. I worked on both the layout of the actual vignette as well as creating the background mural illustration. I used CAD to create the structures in the right proportions and establish the perspective then worked on refining it in illustrator.
When I was preparing for this blog post I did some online investigating to see what other photos might be out there of this exhibit. I never got a photo of several of the illustrations I worked on after they were installed. To my surprise I found that this exhibit, always intended as a traveling show, has in fact been touring in some capacity ever since the debut. Here's a photo of the town busk exhibit on display in 2014, 15 years later!
As the history goes, English settlers and native inhabitants cultures mixed for a period. The native cultures embraced certain things and advanced to develop written language. The next vignette was the largest of all of them, the hearth scene. It illustrated what might be a period log cabin home with both native and settler’s objects together. I created the illustration for the background mural shown that set the hearth scene vignette, below are images from 1999 and the 2014 installations:
Close to the end of the inaugural exhibit the scenery took on a more somber tone as the story relates to the native peoples forced removal. Known as the Trail of Tears, this mural illustration was was less historic and more artistically interpretive. This very dramatic scene was punctuated with an artifacts situated in a period cart and a case featuring a dress that belonged to someone forced to march from Georgia to Oklahoma.
The last image here is an illustration that was created as another piece of interpretive artwork. This actually came second in the exhibit experience right after the object theater. As I read the narrative of the Creek Indian origin story I imagined the moment the fire came down from the mountain. The exhibit called for an illustration but there was no existing illustration that could be blown up to fill a 40 x 60 inch graphic panel. I created this piece which had my name credited on it as the illustrator. I would've loved to been able to keep that panel. I only saved the digital version of it and have lost whatever photos I took:
This was a really interesting exhibit I was fortunate to be a part of. Not only did I learn a lot about the history but I learned a lot about exhibits too. One of my most vivid memories is standing in the finished exhibit and reading one of the treaty documents on display. The object on loan from the Smithsonian was so important the conditions for it's display required an armed guard to stand watch over it.
This brings the second part of the 1999 series of blog posts to a close. I'll be taking a break from 1999 for the next post to feature a project opening up in the next few weeks and then a more personal post. Between those too I plan on publishing a bit of a news update type post. Something I can hopefully do on a semi-quarterly basis.