Once a museum person…


…always a museum person.

This will be a short post in the midst of holiday activities, but I was inspired to write after having lunch with a longtime museum friend and colleague, Caryl Marsh.  Caryl’s work has had a profound impact on contemporary museums.  Along with educator Judy White, Caryl was in the forefront of those who developed both a philosophy and a practical approach to creating hands-on discovery rooms in museums.  Over 30 years ago Caryl and Judy helped launch the Discovery Room at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, where it continues to this day to engage visitors of all ages.   I worked with Caryl when she was the project director and I was the educator on the Psychology Exhibition, a collaborative project of the American Psychological Association, the Ontario Science Centre, and the Association of Science-Technology Centers.   The exhibition won a variety of awards and is often cited as a groundbreaking example of the successful melding of cutting edge research and innovative exhibition technique.  Developed in the late 80s and early 90s, the exhibition doesn’t have a website, but does live on at ExhibitFiles.

Caryl Marsh beside exhibit case with treasured toys and games collected from her community.
Great Grandmother’s Doll, circa 1840s


Caryl will turn 90 in a few months, and remains the interesting (and interested-in everything) person she has always been.  After our lunch in the dining room of the retirement community where she now lives, Caryl and I made our way to the mail room of the residence so that she could pick up a package.  There, in what is probably the most visited place on the campus, was a charming exhibition of treasured toys and games belonging to residents.  I knew that Caryl and some friends had done other exhibitions in this area, so I asked if this had been her idea.  It was indeed, and I was moved to take some photos to share with readers.  The labels are simple; the objects are compelling, filled with promise of stories from their owners; and it’s a concept that’s all the rage in museums: community-generated content.

When things get tough in your museum in the coming year, think of this short holiday tale. Caryl’s a reminder that it’s the power and magic of exhibitions, even very simple ones, that keep us coming back.  All the best for the holidays and the New Year.

Beautiful Baby.  A gift from her parents when she was 13.
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