When The Charles A. Weyerhaeuser Memorial Museum opened in August 1975, naturally it contained exhibits related to Morrison County history.
Those involved in planning for the new museum visited a number of history organizations throughout Minnesota, examining how exhibits were handled in order to get ideas on how to present exhibits in the new museum. At the time, a major trend in exhibit design was to create a path through museums that served as a timeline of history topics. The effect was rather maze-like and it wasn’t something the Morrison County Historical Society wanted to duplicate. Instead, MCHS representatives wanted visitors to be able to enter and exit exhibits wherever they wanted at will.
For the Weyerhaeuser Museum’s initial exhibits, architect Foster Dunwiddie “served as a resource to the staff as they developed, designed and produced the exhibits. … [He] felt it was essential that the staff have the direct experience of preparing the initial exhibits using local resources wherever possible, in order to insure their ability to create future exhibits central to the overall interpretive plan for the museum.”
The philosophy of the exhibits was that there be “a strong emphasis on clean, simple design combined with a direct interpretive approach to each subject. It was agreed that a small number of exhibits well done was preferable to a mediocre job on a wider range of subjects.”
By 1981, a formal review of the use of the museum by Miller-Dunwiddie-Architects found the original exhibits to be lacking in the following ways:
“The artifacts are well displayed, but are treated more as interesting relics than as interpretive tools.”
“Some of the exhibits have a large amount of text which is presented without the visual clues which would help to identify the important points.”
“The general impression of the [South Exhibit] room is that it is overcrowded with artifacts and information, despite the careful preparation of the exhibits.”
“In addition to these exhibits, the [West] corridor is currently used for bulk storage of supplies, publications and large artifacts. This open storage is disruptive to the effectiveness of the exhibits and detracts from their simplicity of presentation.”
“[The East Corridor] currently houses three exhibits and an organ. These exhibits are artifact oriented without much interpretation. The organ appears to be in open storage.”
Further, museum staff had difficulty finding the time, funding, or skilled individuals to switch out permanent exhibits and create new interpretive labels.
The result of this review was to have new exhibits designed for the museum. John Palmer Low, Virginia Westbrook, and Jan Warner created these exhibits, the major structure of which remains in place today. John Low designed the exhibits to convey a sense of timelessness, purposely choosing a classic font for the interpretive labels. Virginia Westbrook and Jan Warner wrote the interpretive text.
The permanent exhibits have held up well, with many visitors remarking on how approachable and modern they are. Artifacts are easily switched within the permanent exhibit, with a number of additions and subtractions having occurred over the years.
All quotations in the text of this post are from the “Facility and Interpretive Program Study of the Charles A. Weyerhaeuser Memorial Museum, Little Falls, MN,” by Miller-Dunwiddie-Architects, Inc., March 30, 1981.
Celebrating the 40th anniversary of The Charles A. Weyerhaeuser Memorial Museum.