Proceedings of the First Park Naturalists’ Training Conference, November 1 to 30, 1929



Frank T. Been

The exterior of the park museum building must be planned so that it harmonizes with the principal feature of the park where it is located, or with that particular portion of the park where it is situated–as with trailside museums. The museum of the national park is quite apt to be in a rather small building. For this reason it must be planned for the maximum utilization of space according to the authorities which I consulted. Rectangularly planned buildings can best be arranged to meet this requirement. If there is a possibility of expansion which may require additional space, the building should be planned so that it can be enlarged harmoniously with the original. The rectangular building, in this event, is again the most satisfactory.

The lay–out of the interior is our most important problem. The building should be distinctly divided into public rooms and staff rooms. The public rooms will be exhibition, library or reading, and lecture. The staff rooms, office, study or conference, and workshop. In a small museum the public room may have to have all public rooms combined in one, but that room can be so arranged that each of these three public requirements are available. The staff rooms may also need modification into one room, but this room should be securely shut off from the public room because efficient and rapid work cannot be accomplished when museum visitors are interfering.

In arranging the exhibition room the following factors must be considered:

1. What objects are to be exhibited
2. Relative importance and size of collections
3. Exhibits arranged in logical sequence
4. Exhibits arranged naturally
5. Exhibits should not be crowded

Concerning the first factor, we have already decided that the park museum exhibits should be pertinent only to the park where museum is located. Paintings and photographs taken of the park, relics and pictures associated with the park history, and natural exhibits of objects native to the park should only be placed in the museums.

The trailside museum should feature only its immediate vicinity so that each trailside museum will be distinctive.

The collections on display in the museum will no doubt be predominated by exhibits which reflect the feature of the park. These collections are the most important and should be given the choice location in the exhibition room.

Around, or perhaps leading up to this important collection, should be placed the other exhibits so arranged and so labeled that a story is unfolded to the observer as he moves from one display to the other. Large museums have rooms devoted to certain types of exhibits which are divided into art, history and science, and each of these are sub-divided. In the usually small museum of the park, art, history and science may be displayed in one room; but the displays can be placed in sequence.

For the greatest effectiveness the collections must be arranged naturally–natural in preparation of each mounting or group of mountings and natural in sequence of groups or collections. The background of the mounting should blend in conspicuously with the group. When a painting of the natural setting is not available, plain buff color presents an unobtrusive setting. The lighting is very important also, and in museums where artificial light is not continuously available is a problem. Windows placed high, however, with frosted glass or equipped with light colored shades cause the natural light to be gently diffused preventing sharp shadows and protects the exhibit from the bleaching force of direct sun-light. Also, high windows do not take up room along the walls, thus making available the maximum space for exhibits.

In the small park museum there is great danger of packing as much material into the exhibition room as the space will hold. Crowding exhibits results in loss of effect so that the surplus material should be stored until more room is available. This surplus is not wasted because a crowded exhibit detracts from the features of the display, thus resulting in a real loss because the object of the museum is to show the observer the park features and park story and stimulate him to seek greater knowledge. A crowded exhibit may befuddle him.

Reference: Coleman, L.V. Manual for Small Museums, Vol. VIII, No. 3


Following the presentation of Mr. Been’s paper, the discussion again centered around the question of the scope of a park museum. The representatives present agreed that the park museums should specialize on the story of the park but that the story of the park need not necessarily be confined to the exact boundaries; for example, in case of history, archeology, etc., the materials exhibited might refer to the region as a whole with special emphasis upon the park and the significance of scientific or historical features within its area.

It was again accentuated that the sequence of exhibits in a park museum should tell the entire story of the park as a unit.

It was also agreed that although the efforts of the Park Naturalist will at first be directed toward the assembling of a complete series of exhibit specimens, attention should also be given to the formation of study collections with a view to ultimately having on file scientific material which will be of value to the Park Service educational staff, to visiting scientists, and to specially interested laymen; this material, however, should not be on exhibit in the general museum but should be kept for reference.

The question of crowding exhibits was discussed, as in many parks there is very limited room in the temporary museum buildings now available. The point was again brought out that exhibit material should not be crowded, even though it may be temporarily necessary to store such material until such time as adequate housing facilities are available.

There followed a lengthy discussion of the location of park museums, and it was the consensus of opinion of all present that it is important that some means of liaison be provided so that such problems can be studied concurrently by representatives of the Educational Division, the Engineering Division and the Landscape Architecture Division. It was agreed that the four primary considerations in museum location, in order of their importance, are:

1. Where can the story best be told?
2. Where are the people?
3. How will the museum best direct visitors to places of interest and educational value?
4. How will the building best fit into the landscape?

It was agreed that every park museum should be supplied with a copy of Coleman’s “Manual for Small Museums” and any other basic publications of similar nature as they appear.


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