The two to three weeks before an exhibition opens is always exciting and intense. In my corner of the museum, my colleagues and I are busy preparing for opening weekend programs and the unveiling of the Daimyo for a Day Art and Activity Room.
During the summer we transform the Resource Room, used during the school year for school tours, into a drop-in activity gallery linked to the special exhibition. The idea is to give people an immersive, hands-on experience that is fun and educational. You may recall last summer’s “Forbidden Discovery Room” and the summer before’s “Manga Lounge”
For the Lords of the Samurai exhibition we created a space meant to evoke a daimyo’s study room, with a tatami mat seating area with alcove (Japanese: tokonoma) and built-in shelves similar to what is found in “shoin” style architecture of aristocratic homes.
Almost everything in this space is meant to be touched by visitors, and therefore has to be built sturdily to withstand some abuse–we particularly want kids to feel welcome to play here, since our no-touch gallery spaces can be a bit limiting for spirited youngsters (and adults) who prefer to learn kinetically.
Working on a tight budget, it was challenging to create a durable space with some semblance of authenticity (we leave it to our visitors to judge if we were successful or not). We were lucky to find some very generous collaborators who graciously worked within our budget.
Here’s what was involved:
-education team brainstormed the elements of the room and drafted an outline of the various activities and sketched designs
-designs shown to the exhibition designer Stephen Penkowsky for feedback and consultation
-signage and wall graphic needs identified and conveyed to graphics firm, Gordon Chun Designs. Incredibly patient designer Amy Lam sent us multiple revisions of proofs of room elevations and graphics, and all have gone to production after editorial review by several readers including the curators and editors
-Secured Japanese garden image and permission from landscape designer Ron Herman
-ordered tatami mats from Mr. Uota who custom-made the special mat used in the tokonoma and coordinated our order from Japan for four light-weight tatami mats (traditional mats weigh about 80 pounds each, but now mats can be made with a lightweight core so they can be easily carried by one person–very useful for museum programming which can be ephemeral). Mr. Uota also contributed a length of Japanese cedar for the carpenter to use on the tokonoma frame
-called various contacts for references of carpenters who could build a tokonoma/built-in shelves. Several were recommended and we ended working two different carpenters to build out different aspects of the room: Kerry Marshall (seen above left) and Christopher Weiss (below)
-met with the head of preparations, Brent Powell, and determined that we would invest in a modular wall system for the partition needed to separate the video viewing area from the daimyo’s study area. The walls arrived June 1. Our preparators worked with Erik, manager of facilities and operations to install them Friday. We will use these walls for years, possibly decades, to come.
-platform construction was completed by yet another contractor, Ergowitz, who installed and painted the platform and new walls Sunday
-three education staff went to Japantown to shop for costumes for people to try on. Purchased a man’s kimono and hakama, a woman’s kimono, and two children’s outfits. (We also stocked up on Japanese sweets at Nippon-Ya.)
-education staff drafted poetry activity instructions and sent them to poet Gary Gach for review and suggestions.
-education staff contacted members of SF Go Club to solicit advise and volunteers to teach people how to play Go over the summer–details are still being worked out
-Tuesday, the day before the press preview, all the major elements were installed and we were ready for the press preview this morning
-Special samurai storytelling program devised with the volunteer storytellers to occur in the room on Thursday mornings
-still to do: finalize poetry activity instructions and send to our in-house graphics designer, Jason Jose for layout and production; produce signage for film series, how to wear the costumes, and acknowledgments; decorate the tokonoma and built-in shelves with convincing but not valuable display items; place books in reading corner; set up poetry activity materials; etc.
Let us know what you think about the room, so that our future efforts can benefit from experience.
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