Friday, May 29, 2009

Exhibition Views: High Point's Furniture Heritage

High Point and furniture are synonymous. It's difficult to think of one without also thinking of the other. Furniture fuels our local economy to the tune of more than eight billion dollars a year. This exhibit is about High Point's furniture industry -- the people who made it, the people who sold it, and the impact it has had on our community. High Point is the furniture capital of the world.

During the 1950s, Tomlinson's Gainsborough chair was one of the most popular upholstered chairs in the region. The red one is probably the biggest one ever made. It was used as a throne on a parade float.
This 1913 aero-view of High Point shows which part of the city was home to most of the furniture factories. Visitors can play the game on the reader rail to discover what has happened to the old factories.

Our exhibit takes you behind the scenes and inside a twentieth-century furniture factory.

We have some really fascinating machinery on view.

Visitors to the exhibition have an opportunity to learn how furniture is constructed.

Furniture has been made in High Point since 1889. In our "furniture showroom" we display examples dating from ca. 1900 to 1955.

Many industries have been established in High Point to serve the furniture industries. Veneer, mirrors, photography, and furniture-finishing technology are a few. Free-lance furniture designers also make up a significant part of the local population. High Point is now the center for furniture design and display.

Photography has been a potent tool for selling furniture. High Point has more studio space for photography than anywhere else in the world. Most of it serves the furniture industry.

Few people know that Tomlinson, a High Point company, originated the idea of displaying furniture for the trade the way it would look in a home. Tomlinson was also the first High Point company to make furniture in suites in antique styles. These three pieces are from a Tomlinson dining room set of the 1920s.

The marketing area of the exhibit features a great insider's look at High Point's furniture market, an industry trade show held twice each year -- the largest in the world. Visitors to the exhibition can pick through Bill Byers' briefcase to see how High Point's furniture market affects the local economy.

The guest seating area is called the Chair Park. It is filled with chairs made recently in High Point. Visitors can sit in each chair and read about the designer and the history of the company that made it. Visitors can also review the exhibition videos and read back issues of Furniture Today and other industry publications.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Opening: Hooray, we made it to the big day!

The opening was a big success! Guests came dressed up.

Rev. Ron Wilkins, former High Point City Councilman, read a poem he wrote in honor of High Point’s sesquicentennial.

A flutist played in the hospitality area.

The food was delicious. Everyone was excited.

We had a ribbon cutting with lots of flashing photography ( The guests rushed to the gallery to see the exhibit. They loved it. We were happy.

Two upholsterers from Pearson’s in High Point demonstrated their knowledge and skill. They were terrific. Our guests were fascinated.

The exhibit looks good on television, too. Check out this segment recorded on the day after opening (

At 9 p.m. we were exhausted and ready to call it a great day.

Rhapsodizing on the exhibit process by Ellen Denker:
Some people compare exhibitionizing to child birth – long months of planning and expectation, hard work in the final moments, and a wonderful outcome. I have always demurred this comparison because I think bringing a child into the world is a much greater accomplishment with far more lasting value. However, there is one area in which the two activities overlap -- the final moments are so difficult one is tempted to mutter “never again,” but then the result is so glorious that the hardest parts are immediately forgotten and the process seems completely doable again.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Installation Weeks Five and Six

Installation Weeks Five and Six: Slowly, But Surely

We have been so busy the past two weeks that we had no time to blog. We will try to remedy that today by catching up.

As before, many activities were going on outside the museum rather than in the gallery during Week Five. All the graphic pieces of the exhibit – text panels, labels, prints, photographs – were produced at a special graphics production house. This material was delivered all at one time. In addition, our carpenter was working on platforms and cases in his own workshop. They will be brought in over a ten-day period during weeks five and six. Most came in finished, but one or two came in parts that needed to be assembled on site.

Monday, May 18, was exciting, because all the graphic pieces came in from the printer. Also our designer was on site to oversee and instruct the exhibit installers about where to hang everything. See her at left. She is on the phone and cutting mats at the same time.

And the installers were right on it. Things started going up on the walls very quickly. In fact, the gallery was a beehive of activity.

The progress was astounding. The exhibit we have labored over on paper went from its usual two-dimensional form to three dimensions. We can walk through it rather than just read through it. We are happy with the results. Here, the carpenter's assistants are moving in the pieces that will be used to erect a beautiful case to hold upholstered chairs:

Here is the case when finished:

You can see why we are happy. We only wish we had enough time to accomplish everything before the big opening on May 26.

Weeks Five and Six also mark the beginning of steady publicity activities. The opening of the exhibit has been announced in some print publications that have long lead times. Now we are working with the short-term media – radio and television – getting on the local radio morning shows, doing early-morning remotes for the local tv stations, and getting noticed by the newspapers. All this took a lot of planning by our community relations director.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Installation Week Four

Installation Week Four: Watching a Ballet of Hydraulics, Levers, and Muscles

We had the privilege this past week to watch a crew of seasoned movers manage some large, heavy, and extremely bulky objects from off-site storage several miles away to the exhibition floor. At the museum end of the move, they were hampered by direct access to the gallery. Despite a loading dock being part of our exhibit, useful devices like a fork-lift could go no further than the doorway. This is where one sees the application of geometry and good old-fashioned ingenuity. Suddenly the building of the pyramids without benefit of a fork-lift, back-hoe, or crane seems possible. Levers, blocks, and wheels were indispensible, but modern mechanical devices were almost unnecessary. The best way to describe the process was like watching a ballet – coordinated, rehearsed, and muscular.

We took some pictures, but they hardly convey the efforts of the crew that served us. Our proverbial hats are off to them!

Prior to the arrival of the big stuff we had measured and laid out the objects on paper in a conventional floor plan. Last week we marked the floor for placement. These measurements insured that the objects will be inaccessible to visitors once the “fence” around the machine area is erected.

If you refer back to pictures on previous blogs you can see how the exhibit is taking shape.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Installation Week Three

Installation Week Three

Last week was relatively quiet as far as installation goes, although we were still busy with the last bits of proof reading and with getting ready for our opening celebration. More platforms arrived.

The faux painter changed the look of the loading-dock door, which will be background for the factory portion of our exhibition. At larger museums, the loading dock is separated from galleries. For smaller buildings we often have to contend with backstage functions imposing on the front of the house. Most museums with this problem would want to hide their loading dock door during exhibitions with some kind of baffle, but we decided to embrace ours as factory ambiance for the large machinery. Everyone is excited by the transformation of the door. The faux painter is now getting ready to create our brick wall.

Some of the flat-screen TV monitors were installed last week as well. Right now they look vacant to be sure, but we have already produced the videos that will be shown on them. We could tell you what the videos are about, but that would spoil the surprises. Each has been specially themed to the place where it will appear in the exhibition.

In the exhibition development process, we try to think about the many ways we can connect with visitors through their senses. All exhibits engage sight to some extent, and for many art exhibits that is the primary way for visitors to understand the material on view. History exhibits are a bit different in that visitors want to be able to travel back in time. Engaging the senses is a good way to help that happen. The videos will titillate sight and sound at the same time. We have also introduced smells and ambient sounds, and we will give visitors many opportunities to engage their sense of touch. We have not addressed taste on its own, although the smells might be strong enough to taste.

Events are moving fast in week four already, but I’ll wait until Friday to fill you in. Thanks for visiting.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Installation Week Two

Installation Week Two

We had a power outage on Friday and accompanying computer issues. Needless to say, we couldn’t post on our regular schedule.

Installation progress made last week was minimal because we were focused on proofreading the final copy that’s been set and ready to send to the printer. This was our last chance to catch a pesky typo, review credit lines, and check object numbers. At this writing, everything has been returned to the designer. The print part of the furniture exhibit is now in final production mode.

In the meantime, the carpenter brought in the first of the platforms. We are thrilled with their design and finish. And we are looking forward to seeing the others as they are delivered.

Also the A/V installer has been working in the gallery, wiring the locations for the video feeds that will come from DVD players in a locked closet. We expect this to reduce the sort of petty vandalism that most museums suffer. For many years museums locked the video output devices in kiosks that had to be monitored individually. More and more, museums are choosing centralized video output in order to reduce the time staff spends managing individual stations and to add another layer of security for the equipment.

Stay tuned for more excitement. We are working towards May 5 as our big move-in day, which means lots of background projects will have to be accomplished this week.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Furniture Exhibit Preparations: Background

Last Thursday we saw the first construction for our new furniture heritage exhibition, which opens May 26th. Many people ask how an exhibit goes together. In the interests of transparency, which is all the rage these days, we thought we would give you a “behind the scenes” look at how our gallery comes together over the next six weeks. We will be posting weekly updates on the construction, arrival of objects from off-site storage, and installation of the exhibition.

Although we started construction last week, there has been a lot going on to prepare for the first foray into changing the exhibition. In the gallery, the old exhibit has been removed and the museum’s objects returned to their regular storage locations. The bulk of the exhibition was traveling, so all of those objects (mostly watercolors and gouaches) had to be repacked in their crates. The crates were picked up by a shipper.

Once the gallery was clear, the painters came in to patch the walls and apply the new wall colors for the furniture exhibition. The designer has specified three different colors, so all of that had to be mapped out for the painters.

Development of the content of the exhibition has been going on for the last ten months. The first script was sent out to readers in July 2008. Before we could get to that point, however, we had many months of research, learning the history of the region’s furniture industry and surveying objects in public and private collections that might be suitable to include. Script development is a rather complicated ballet of list making and word smithing, punctuated with drawing preliminary floor plans and brainstorming design and interpretive ideas. Some sections of the first script and their attendant objects are winnowed as the twin realities of space and budget begin to take hold. All along the way, the museum’s staff, our volunteers and our advisory committee members are reading the script (and its subsequent iterations) and giving us their critiques. Exhibit development is definitely a group activity.

Two weeks ago, the designer laid out the floor plan with tape on the gallery floor and we all began to get excited about the project. That is, going from paper to life-size is truly invigorating. Our volunteer docents get more enthusiastic with every viewing of the space. Today, they were invited to read the script taped to the gallery walls.

We have included a few gallery views taken this morning. By next week at this time all of these areas will have changed, and you dear reader will witness those changes.

Photos above:

top--The newly-built wall will mimic the entrance to a furniture factory.

middle--In the gallery, we taped off the spaces where objects will be grouped and made full-size templates of the objects to see if they will fit. Beyond the machinery area you can see pictures of exhibit objects taped to the walls to help us visualize how the exhibit will look when finished.

bottom--Our docent crew has come in for their first look at the mock up. They read the text panels and label copy for typos, asked questions, gave some good suggestions, and told us they love it all. This is very encouraging.