For the past several Februaries, the Bruce Museum has gone out to Greenwich Town Hall to decorate a display case for a month or two. With the weather barely above freezing and the chill winds blowing, it was time to make our journey out to Town Hall once more.
While we often borrow artifacts from other institutions for our museum exhibits, our Town Hall displays are always items from our permanent collections. Even though we might show 3-4 different science exhibits in a year, what many people don't realize is that the bulk of our objects are locked away beneath the museum, rarely seen by those other than the science department staff. We have in the vicinity of 10,000 science objects in our collections. Some are used for research, some are held onto for later exhibition, while others are just held in preservation for future generations to learn from and enjoy.
With all these items to choose from, it makes determining which to show off at Town Hall a fun and challenging task. While brainstorming ideas for this month's Town Hall case, an idea immediately jumped out at me: We have so many wonderful shells and sea creatures, why not use them?
And so, a theme was born. This Town Hall exhibit would take us under the sea!
On set up day, it was time to pack everything up for transport. Most of the oceanic artifacts were fairly sturdy, but others like the beautiful red finger sponge and the long rostrum (nose) of the sawfish were surprisingly delicate. The giant clam shell, on the other hand, was as durable as it was heavy.
We packed them in blankets in one of our museum vehicles and put some extra display boxes and materials in a second. With our fishy cargo stowed away, we rolled on out to Town Hall.
When we rested the massive sawfish (A fiberglass replica. No sawfish were harmed!) in the case, we wondered if we'd made a mistake. Would it be able to fit? Or would we have to take it back home to the museum to be resigned to storage once more? Fortunately, our exhibition designer had brought with a solution.
Once the sawfish was mounted on a custom-made pedestal we all breathed a little easier. Even before adding the other items, the sawfish alone was striking in the empty case. Though it is a static object, it conveys a sense of motion in the tilt of its body and the angle of its tail.
Carefully, we added in the other items. Each had a pre-determined place to rest. Truly, much of the preparation work had already been done at the museum. Now, we were just putting everything together. Here, exhibition preparator Sean Murtha adopts a serious expression as he marks the spot where the triggerfish he holds will soon be hung. Queen triggerfish are my personal favorite fish and I was delighted to be able to include one in this display.
While waiting for the glue gun to heat up (to affix labels to the pedestals), I peered into the case from the side. It gave me a great view of the splendid saw of the sawfish. This is the last thing many fish will ever see. A sawfish's rostrum is covered in electric receptors, allowing them to sense nearby prey. Once they locate a fish, they dispatch their prey in a number of ways. If they are swimming in open water, they'll slash their saw to strike the fish and incapacitate it, sometimes slicing the fish in half. If the sawfish is on the seabed while hunting, it might use its saw to pin its prey to the bottom instead, positioning it to be swallowed whole.
Humans don't have much to fear from this slashing stingray relative, however. Though folklore might tell of them attacking boats or swimmers with their long nose weapon, today they are considered harmless, except when they are forced to defend themselves when captured.
With the labels fixed into place, the display was complete. Our "aquarium" of Bruce Science specimens swims at Greenwich Town Hall for the month of February. February is a short month, so make sure to take a look at them before they swim back home!
- Kate Dzikiewicz, Paul Griswold Howes Fellow