Journey to the National Aquarium Animal Care and Research Center

Posted on August 8th, 2018 by

Blog post by JMM intern Alexia M. Orengo Green. To read more posts from JMM interns, past and present, click here.

As an intern in the Jewish Museum of Maryland, I have been to various field trips to several museums in the Baltimore and Washington DC area. On these field trips I have been able to learn various aspects about the museum filed and everything that entitles working in them. From all the field trips that we went to this summer, my favorite one has been the visit to the National Aquarium Animal Care and Research Center. I know, you must be wondering, what does a Care and Research Center have to do with museums? In reality it has to do a LOT.

Pig turtle.

The National Aquarium Animal Care and Research Center officially opened its doors on May 2018. The building contains the National Aquarium’s exhibit fabrication space, water production equipment, and doubles the capacity to care for rescued animal. From the moment we arrived at the Center we were told that this Rehabilitation Center was different from the rest. In contrast with other Centers, which the public has either limited or no access to it, the building was design to have visitors. The National Aquarium wanted people to feel welcomed to a space where they can learn about a lot of aspects from the Aquarium that often go behind the scenes.

The sense of welcomeness to the public can be felt from the moment one steps through the front door. The space has an open feel and invites the curiosity of the visitor. In the lobby of the Center one of the first things one notices is the large vitrine that allows visitors to see into the production area. The production area has various functions, which include creating and fixing exhibits, producing new features for the exhibits, and creating toys for the different animals they have in the Aquarium and the Center. To be able to make the exhibits for the animals the manufacturers must do intensive research to recreate the environments of the ocean with materials that are durable. The toys the manufacturers create also require research and are made to challenge the animal. An example we were giving during our visit was a crab that was being created for an octopus. The octopus was going to have to open the crab to “hunt” for his food. Once the octopus has master how to open the crab, the mechanics would be changed to continue challenging him.

Long neck turtle.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the lobby its the classroom where visiting groups receive information about the work that is happening in the Center. There they are given an introduction and talked about the different journeys of the animal that they have in the Center. To do this, the care takers recreate the process in which the animals arrive to the center and what happens to them once they are there. Each person is given a card with the information and name of one of the animals on the Center, and they are responsible for the care of that animal. While the groups are being toured around the building, they learn about the proper care of the animals they were assigned require. They are also given the opportunity to “recreate” one of the procedures that vets do to make sure the animals that just arrived are healthy. Through “recreating” the procedure the visitors can see that no animal is small enough for veterinarian attention.


One of the main parts of the tour of the Center are the exhibits. Each panel was thoughtfully created to explain the different types of works that are done in the center. All the panels were made in the production side of the Center and can be easily adapted depending on the information that is displaced. An example of one of the ways in which they were able to make the panels adaptable is the one regarding the care of the seals. The panel has pictures of the seals that have been on the Center that can be easily changed if a new seal arrives. They also have clipboards containing the information of each seal. The panels also have a bag that contains interactive objects to facilitate the learning experience for visitors. The bag of the seals’ panel has an example of what they would use to rehydrate seals when they arrive to the center.

For our tour we were able to see the lab and kitchen where the care takers make the food for each animal in the center. But for me, the must exciting part of the tour was seeing the animals that were on rehabilitation.  The center has two caimans, fishes, and turtles! As a big turtle fan, you can say I was extremely happy when I saw them. The care takers talked about their diet and care while they are in the center. They also talked about how each animal has its own personality and their individual journey. It was incredible to see these animals receiving the care they need and establishing a connection with them when visiting the center.

Long neck turtle and pig turtle.

The connection that one stablishes with the animals that are on the Center makes the visitor more compelled to learn about the different ecosystems and animals. But the Center is not the only place that has been able to create that experience for their visitors. The Cincinnati Zoo has been able to establish a strong connection between its visitors and their baby hippo Fiona. Through social media the zoo has been able to share moments from Fiona’s life that otherwise would not be available for the public. I, for example, have never been to Cincinnati but I would love to go just to see Fiona. Ever since I first heard about Fiona, I have learned several hippo facts that I didn’t know before. The effect that the Cincinnati Zoo has achieved with their hippo Fiona is one that the National Aquarium Care and Research Center can achieve through its tours.

Even though the Care and Research center is not a typical museum in contains many aspects that normal museums have. The architecture and design of the building was created for receiving visitors, which is one of the reasons why the building feels inviting. The production area gives the visitors the chance to see a behind the scenes look into how the exhibits of the aquarium are created and how thorough the process is. The building is created to teach its visitors about the ocean wild life, how is being affected today, and what they can do to help it.

Many thanks to Adam Nelson, Jessica Young, and Candice Canady for facilitating our special tour of the center!

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Illustrations and The Women of The Associated

Posted on August 8th, 2018 by

Blog post by JMM intern Ash Turner. To read more posts from JMM interns, past and present, click here.

While looking through material from the Associated Jewish Charities and Jewish Welfare Fund from the 1940s to the 1970s, I have found a treasure trove of fun illustrations. Everything from invitations, to informational booklets, to newsletters contain small drawings that are simple and expressive. My time researching the Associated was made even more fun with the addition of these little gems sprinkled throughout their fundraising material.

Promotional invitation for “Coke Tale” Hour, an event hosted by the Young People’s Division of the Associated Jewish Charities’ Women’s Division. Includes an illustration of a young man at a microphone and a bucket of cola bottles on ice. Via JMM 2017.068.014.008

What I really wanted to talk about were the artists who made these great illustrations. But as far as I can tell, there is no documentation on who drew them. What I do know is that many of these drawings are found mostly in the Women’s Division scrapbooks and within their campaign material (the Women’s Division was a formal organization of women within the Associated that volunteered and ran fundraising campaigns from 1957 to 1993). Since there is also no clear record of a position or job of “artist” or “illustrator” early on in the Women’s Division or the Associated, and since there is no clear record of someone being hired to create these illustrations, there is a possibility that these artists were simply volunteers, specifically women from the Women’s Division. The sketch below, most likely created by a volunteer, supports the feasibility that volunteers created their own illustrations and material for Women’s Division events. But, since this is just speculation, and I don’t have specific information about the artists who created these drawings, I will just focus on talking about the drawings themselves, and how they relate to the women of the Associated.

A sketch, hand drawn in pencil, that lays out an idea for an invitation for a Women’s Division event. From the 1949 Women’s Division Scrapbook, JMM 2017.068.011.031

Many of these Women’s Division illustrations from the late 1940s through the early 1960s are sketched, simple line drawings, usually added next to text on invitations and fundraising cards. Most look like quick sketches, as if they were hand-drawn and then reprinted, and they can be found in the Division’s newsletters and other advertising materials. A few of the drawings contain simple and clean lines with a single accent color, pulled together in a thoughtful layout. They mostly depict women at work—volunteering, fundraising, or deep in thought.

Three close-ups of illustrations from cards for the 1949 “G-Day,” a door-to-door campaign hosted by the Women’s Division of the Associated. From the 1949 Women’s Division Scrapbook, JMM 2017.068.011

Two close-ups of illustrations from the booklet “Why Women” from the Women’s Division, created for “G-Day” in 1951. From the 1951 Combined Campaign Scrapbook, JMM 2017.068.019

Two pages from 1955 “Keynoter” Newsletters, produced by the Women’s Division of the Associated Jewish Charities and Welfare Fund. Left image contains an illustration of a “G-Day” door-to-door solicitor, and right image describes the need to give during the Associated combined campaign. From the JMM’s 1955 Women’s Division Scrapbook

In the late 1960s and onwards, the illustrations start to become more fleshed out. These drawings have cleaner designs, and sometimes are either cartoonishly stylized or realistically rendered. This is the time period when the Associated’s illustrations become integrated into the overall graphic design of the campaign material as well, making the drawings feel more professional.

Cover of an invitation for the “Art of Living” luncheon and fashion show campaign event, hosted by the Women’s Division of the Associated. From the JMM’s 1969 Women’s Division Scrapbook

To me, these illustrations make the regular campaign material more inviting and approachable. They depict the role of women in the Associated, and how they viewed themselves at that point in time: heavily engaged and committed to social work, a part of the community, and lending a helping hand at every turn. The way the women are drawn in the illustrations—proud, emotive, active… It’s not a stretch to say that they are drawn more often than men in these illustrations, and it shows how big of a part they played in the Associated’s organization and their fundraising campaigns.

Women in the Associated were very engaged with both the arts and culture, especially during this time period from the 40s to the 70s. They were a part of the Baltimore art community, hosting art exhibits and teaching art at the Jewish Community Center. They held art and cultural festivals, such as the “Village Fair” hosted by the Ladies’ Auxiliary of Levindale. The Women’s Division wrote and performed their own plays for their campaigns and wrote original poems to include in their newsletters. Regardless of if they drew these illustrations for the Women’s Division, the women of the Associated took an artistic approach to connecting with their community, and I feel that their work in the arts is communicated through the illustrative touches added to their campaign material. They went above and beyond to engage and connect, combining art with fundraising to create these magical moments and drawings that livened up their campaigns.

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Intern Weekly Response: DC Field Trip

Posted on August 2nd, 2018 by

Every week we’re asking our summer interns to share some thoughts and responses to various experiences and readings. This week we asked them to share about their recent field trip experience to the National Mall in Washington, DC. To read more posts from JMM interns, past and present, click here.

Turning Up the Volume on Indigenous Voices

~Intern Marisa

I’ve already written a little bit about our trip to DC in my blog post last week in which I discuss the Dragons in Art tour we took at the National Gallery of Art and the value of an interdisciplinary approach to programming.

Today though, I’d like to talk about what I saw at the National Museum of Natural History that I thought was really well done: how the museum gave a platform for indigenous voices. I saw this in two of their exhibits: Narwhals: Revealing an Arctic Legend and Objects of Wonder

In the Narwhals exhibit, the National Museum of Natural History did a couple of different things to help highlight Inuit voices. First, they took an interdisciplinary approach to the exhibit, and displayed Inuit art and described legends that depict the cultural importance of the Narwhal.

This image shows Germaine Arnaktauyok’s illustration entitled A Woman Who Became a Narwhal based on an Inuit legend from their oral tradition, that tells of a wicked mother who was transformed into a Narwhal.

Second, they explored the fascinating relationship between Inuit cultural knowledge and science, and how it is Inuit cultural knowledge that informs science, rather than the other way around. For instance, it has been culturally known, through experiences and stories passed down in the Inuit communities, that the narwhal’s tooth [which looks like a horn] can actually bend. The scientific community then put this to the test and confirmed this piece of cultural knowledge. The museum made sure time and time again in that exhibit to validate and display how Inuit cultural knowledge has helped science learn more about narwhals. Third, and most importantly, is that the museum worked directly with the Inuit communities in the creation of the exhibit. They had interviews and videos, art and stories, some of which was done for the express purpose of this exhibit; this allows the Inuit communities to shape their own narrative and share it with a larger audience who may not have heard their voices otherwise.

So, the Narwhals exhibit is a fantastic example of how to work with indigenous communities whose culture and technology are still intact and preserved, but how can the museum help communities that have lost that, for any number of reasons? In the exhibit, Objects of Wonder, the museum shows us one of the coolest collaborations. I should say first that the Objects of Wonder is a sort of exhibit of smaller exhibits, with an overarching goal of teaching visitors about the museum’s vast collection and how those items ended up at the museum. One of these small exhibits within the exhibit was on the fishing ring net weights of the Wanapum Band of Priest Rapids.

This photo shows a Wanapum Band fishing ring net weight on display at the National Museum of Natural History in D.C. This smaller exhibit inside Objects of Wonder gives an example of how cultural institutions can work with communities to help preserve and support their culture.

The community had lost this technology due to the creation of a United States government plutonium facility that “forc[ed] the Wanapum to relocate.” In 2015, members of this community traveled to the museum to study one of the only remaining examples of this technology with the goal of reverse engineering it and bringing this traditional practice back to their community. The collaboration between the Wanapum and the museum, which was discussed thoroughly in the display, not only highlights the plight of forced relocation of Native American populations, but also how cultural institutions can work with these communities to preserve and support their culture.

With these two exhibits, the Natural History Museum has given an opportunity for indigenous people to share their stories and have their voices heard and is setting the bar for how to do this in a respectful and engaging way.


IPOP and the Power of Interdisciplinary Exhibits

~Intern Cara

Gallery view of “Narwhal: Revealing an Arctic Legend”

As someone coming from a humanities background, natural history and science museums have typically felt inaccessible to me. The Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History ‘s exhibit, Narwhal: Revealing an Arctic Legend, changed that for me. I feel like this exhibit has flipped the script on what a natural history exhibit can be and achieve. This exhibit could have very easily just focused on the anatomy and behavior of narwhals but instead took a more engaging interdisciplinary approach. The exhibit touches on all aspects of Narwhals from their relation to their environment, climate change, the role of narwhals in native cultures, narwhals in pop culture to the history and mythology of narwhals and other horned creatures.

This text panel takes a look at the origins of one-horned creatures around the world, effectively engaging visitors who may be more interested in art and literature than science.

I think this interdisciplinary approach is particularly powerful way of engaging visitors. In my museum studies courses we’ve discussed the Smithsonian’s IPOP model of visitor engagement. The model “identifies four key dimensions of experience – Ideas (conceptual, abstract thinking), People (emotional connections), Objects (visual language and aesthetics), and Physical experiences (somatic sensations). The model maintains that individuals are drawn to these four dimensions to different degrees.” Just as visitors are drawn to certain dimensions of experience (personally I find myself more drawn to objects and physical experiences), people are drawn towards certain disciplines based on their interests. Interdisciplinary exhibits like the Smithsonian’s narwhal exhibit successfully keep visitors engaged by combatting the monotony of single discipline exhibits and allowing visitors to follow their interests.

Do we see all the artifacts a museum has?

~Intern Alexia

 Many museums have a permanent exhibit, meaning that every time you go visit it you are going to see the same artifacts or paintings. Sometimes these exhibits are slightly modified by changing a small quantity of the items. But, those that exhibit composes the entire collection the museum has? The answer to this question is often no. Big collections for many museums are a problem because of storage, conservation, and deciding what to showcase to the public. Museums acquire artifacts for their collections from donations, loans, and by buying them. Because of the large collection the museum may have, many of these artifacts the viewer never gets to see them.

The topic of large collections and everything they entitle came to my mind while visiting the exhibit of Objects of Wonder in The National Museum of Natural History. This exhibit, which is located on the second floor of the museum encompasses a wide range of artifacts from different subjects such as migration, paleontology, and geology. Some artifacts from the exhibit include mammoth meat, butterflies, ceramics, fossils, and a Japanese samurai armor.  But Objects of Wonders does more than just showcasing part of the large collection the Smithsonian has, it gives the audience a perspective they often do not get a chance to see.

Japanese samurai armor gifted to President Roosevelt by Emperor of Japan. Photo by Marisa Shultz

When most people go to an exhibit they do not think how the artifacts that are shown got to the museum, why the curator chose them, or how do researchers or scientists use and study those artifacts. Objects of Wonder breaks that barrier between the museum and the visitor. Through the exhibit the visitor can read comments from the curator regarding how specific items joined museum’s collection. The visitor can also see how researchers use the different collections for their investigations.

Calcite on quartz (amethyst)

The idea of creating an exhibit that encompasses a large range of topics to give the audience an overall idea of the collection a museum has is brilliant. By also having the curators notes throughout the exhibit the visitor has an inside of how they make an exhibit and their train of thought. The Natural History Museum was successful in creating an exhibit that flows well and tells the story of artifacts that do not necessarily have things in common.

Light and Sound: Immersion at the Smithsonian

~Intern Ash

When an interactive activity lights up, it draws us in. When we walk into a room with a different soundscape, the mood of the room changes. When light is shone on a specific area, it grabs our attention and sharpens our focus.

Light and sound are important aspects to consider when designing an immersive environment for visitors. After visiting the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History on an intern field trip a couple of weeks ago, I was captivated with the sound and light design in its exhibits. So, I wanted to talk about a few of the ways they used light and sound to immerse their visitors in their exhibits and environments.

First, we headed to the Narwhal: Revealing An Arctic Legend exhibit. When we walked into this exhibit, seemingly abstract sounds filled the room. The best way to describe the soundscape was that it was like an interpretation of a mystical winter—slow creaking and shimmering notes, some haunting and deep, and others high-pitched and chattering. I was immediately enthralled with the sounds and was curious as to what they were. A panel in the exhibit described that they were “above-water sounds of Arctic birds and wind, and below-water sounds of narwhals vocalizing and ice moving and creaking.” The magical nature of these sounds fit well with the “mythical” legends that surround the Narwhal.

At the front of the Narwhal exhibit at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

Along with the sound design, the lighting was sparse and kept to an ice and deep-water theme. Most of the lighting was a light, frosty blue, especially near the entrance. Around a hanging replica of a narwhal in the middle of the exhibit, there was shimmering blue light projected on the floor, mimicking how light shines through water. The walls and ceiling were painted black, absorbing the extra light and making the whole environment feel deep and mysterious, as if we were underwater. Overall, the sound and lighting design created the feeling of winter and the underwater deep as we walked throughout this exhibit.

Other than the Narwhal exhibit, there were a few other moments that I enjoyed throughout the museum because of their use of light and sound. In the David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins, there was a “cave” environment that had recreations of early human cave paintings. The lighting was dim and warm in this area, making the cave feel as if it was naturally and sparsely lit up. Low and haunting tones filled the space, and with the reading of a panel, I found out that the sounds were from playing a whistle artifact that was on display. This area and its haunting “music” created a sense of going back in time. It made me feel connected to early humans (my ancestors, of sorts) and their symbols.

Interactive about counterillumination in the Sant Ocean Hall at the Smithsonian. Panel states, “Look in and pretend you are a big fish looking up for a little fish to eat. Press the button and hold to see how the little fish uses its lights to hide.”

There were a lot of other areas of the museum where I enjoyed the lighting and sounds—a section on iridescent blues in the Objects of Wonder exhibit, an interactive about how fish use counterillumination to hide… But, seeing as how the museum has so many nooks and crannies, I don’t have the time to talk about them all. Overall, though, I can say that the parts of the museum that stuck with me the most were where these lights and sounds were used just right to transport me into a different world or time. In this way, the Smithsonian uses light and sound to its fullest. It combines them in the most captivating ways, forming enchanting environments and immersive spaces for visitors to explore.


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