SandorMax was honored to work with the illustrious Gunn Historical Museum on a comprehensive long-term exhibit, Washington Connecticut – An American Story.
The museum was awarded a substantial “Good to Great” grant from the State of Connecticut to support the exhibit, which covers over 10,000 years of history, reflecting the wider American experience. Our work included strategy, branding, exhibit and digital design, as well as materials sourcing and installation of the exhibit.
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One of the key challenges we faced was how to exhibit 10,000 years of history and thousands of artifacts within the limited space of an 18th-century museum building?
We also tackled the challenge of engaging visitors without overwhelming them as we had to distill and incorporate hundreds of artifacts to tell the complete story of a town. And compounding these challenges was an aggressive timeline, allowing only seven months from concept to exhibit opening.
We worked closely with the museum curator on a careful distillation of thousands of years of history into bite-sized topics and concepts. Within each topic, we developed approachable stories of people to express abstract concepts and make them tangible learning opportunities.
Conveying the history of Washington as the wider American experience, we told the individual stories of Native Americans and colonists, enslaved people and abolitionists, industrialists and immigrants, soldiers and citizens, as well as other historically important stories. Artifacts and oral histories from community members were encouraged and incorporated to create a community collaborative exhibit.
We created an exciting modular design concept which provides a visual rhythm as the visitor experiences the sequential exhibit topics. We used compelling storytelling and bold, oversized graphics to convey key historical concepts in an engaging manner. The color scheme of dark grey walls with pops of red and blue highlight and put the focus on the artifacts, graphics, and exhibit topics. The design concept extends to the digital exhibit, offering a cohesive flow to the visitor experience.
We start the exhibit with a bold and layered “table of contents” mural to introduce visitors to the comprehensive exhibit before they begin their experience through the years of history. The design then unfolds with a rhythm of modular designs for each topic, punctuated by artifacts in wall cases, large graphics, and 3D dioramas. Print materials and exhibit components were sourced to last well over 10 years, ensuring the longevity of this long-term exhibit. Interactive digital exhibits on iPad stations are interspersed throughout the exhibit to give visitors a deeper dive into historical topics.
We designed and developed interactive digital exhibits to extend the reach of the exhibit and engage visitors. This included interactive websites on iPads throughout the exhibit, which displayed hundreds of additional artifacts, Then & Now presentations, timelines, and videos.
In addition to record-breaking attendance with visitors from around the nation and world and rave reviews in the press, the exhibit has won three prestigious awards:
American Association for State and Local History: 2020 Award of Excellence
“The AASLH Leadership in History Awards is the nation’s most prestigious competition for recognition of achievement in state and local history. The awards program encourages standards of excellence in the collection, preservation, and interpretation of state and local history throughout the United States, and the winners represent the best in the field. By publicly recognizing superior and innovative achievements, the Leadership in History Award winners serve as models and inspiration for others in the field.”
Connecticut League of History Organizations: 2020 Award of Merit
“We are impressed with the Gunn Museum’s well-developed research process and involvement of the community in formulating the exhibition’s content. The result was a thoughtful, comprehensive history of the town of Washington that connected this one place with the larger American story in meaningful ways.”
Graphic Design USA: 2019 American Graphic Design Award
“Graphic Design USA (GDUSA) is a leading organization for the design industry whose mission is to identify and showcase best practices and exemplary design in all forms. GDUSA highlights organizations who have demonstrated design excellence on a national level. Of the 10,000 entries submitted in 2019, a highly selective 10% were chosen as a winner. The Gunn Historical Museum’s exhibit Washington Connecticut – An American Story, created by design agency SandorMax, was awarded the 2019 GDUSA Design Award for Exhibit Design excellence.”
IN THE PRESS
“Run don’t walk to see the new exhibit, Washington Connecticut – An American Story at the Gunn Historical Museum. This is the first project to cross the finish line to completion in the Good to Great state grant program – and it simply nailed it. Object rich, thoughtfully thematic – a feast for the mind and eye and a stellar demonstration of why local history is living history. This is the kind of performance that museums 10 times the size struggle to pull off.”
– William Hosley, Museum consultant, former Executive Director New Haven Museum and Connecticut Landmarks
Litchfield Magazine: Washington’s Magical History Tour
“Small-town historical museums all too often conjure up memories of bored, rainy-day childhood visits to creaky airless rooms invariably cluttered with dusty vitrines, blurry daguerreotypes of grim-faced worthies, moldy documents, the reek of camphor, and at least one antique spinning wheel. The Gunn Historical Museum in Washington shatters that stereotype. The Gunn has put together Washington, Connecticut—An American Story, a beautiful and rich award-winning multimedia exhibit that traces the history of the town back thousands of years through to the present day. For the curious visitors or local enthusiasts, a few hours exploring this fascinating microcosm of the American experience will be time well spent.”