Monday, May 7, 2012

Love Those Minnesotan Labels!

Can labels be creative?  Not what's said in them,  but what they look like?  When I say the word "label"  what comes into your head?  A white piece of mat-board with text, mounted on the wall?  At the Minnesota History Center and Mill City Museum (both part of the Minnesota Historical Society)  I saw more inventive, ingenious label installations than I'd ever seen before in a single place.  Over and over again,  text was displayed in surprising ways,  that encouraged me to read more,  to explore, and to appreciate the sense of humor and playfulness that the exhibit teams brought to projects.

Here's just a few examples from several different exhibits.  Above, visitors could hand-crank reproduction sausage through a grinder,  reading a memory of sausage-making as the links spooled along.  Below left,  census information is printed on a (I'm sure) reproduction piece of clothing.  Below right, a silhouette and a informational pillow represent one of the house's earliest residents.
Everyone seemed to love this installation in the Greatest Generation exhibit.  Oral histories and photos were printed on paper dry-cleaner bags, and visitors could move the rack around to read. Below, more food story labels, on bread and cans.
And a few more food-related ones--a dining table with signs on the back of chairs,  text on plates, and the simplest of fake food--hand-sewn potatos and wooden carrots.  You could open the oven--and there's the turkey, basted with oral histories.
I watched several families gingerly sit, below, on a bed,  and listen and laugh as their weight triggers an audio segment.
And finally, this one from Mill City.  Because as clever as these labels are,  if they didn't help us towards a "so what?" understanding, then they would just be design tricks.  Instead, each one made the museum feel friendly--like they wanted to sit down and share a compelling story with you or encourage you to consider something new.  After my few days in Minneapolis,  the labels seem to embody Minnesotans--very Minnesota-friendly!   For more information about the Minnesota Historical Society's work on the Open House: If These Walls Could Talk exhibit, where many of these images come from,  be sure and check out Letting Go?: Sharing Historical Authority in a User-Generated World, edited by Bill Adair, Benjamin Filene and Laura Koloski.


Museum Means said...

totally agree-those labels were great. tone and placement... I have been thinking about in what ways art museums can learn these.

Linda said...

Wow, Museum Means, you are one rapid responder! Thanks...and would love to hear your thoughts on how art museums might do this.

Emma M said...

Thanks for sharing these inspiring pictures! Learning is so much more engaging when it involves a sense of wonder or exploration. Exhibits often do this through how they present objects, but I haven't seen labels that accomplished that... until now!

Linda said...

Emma--yes, these really did encourage exploration in a lovely way. A friend and I were talking yesterday and she described the voice of this museum as "howdy neighbor!" and I think that's pretty true--not a scary exploration, but a friendly one.