Artifact Walls and Landmark Objects: Part Two

The National Museum of American History collects, studies, and exhibits objects from our nation’s rich and diverse history.  When the museum reopens November 21, 2008, Artifact Walls and Landmark Objects will be two of the exciting transformations that will shape a new visitor experience at the Museum.  The Artifact Walls will highlight the depth and breadth of the collections while the Landmark Objects will provide dramatic visual experiences that highlight the theme of each wing.

The information provided about each object will answer the questions we know our visitors want to know about:

  • What is it?
  • What era it is from?
  • Whose story does it tell?

The Artifact Walls
A “No Stamp Act” teapot, a helmet with night vision, and a dentist’s chair are just a few of the objects that will be showcased in the newly constructed Artifact Walls.  The Artifact Walls consist of 275 linear feet of glass-fronted object cases lining the center of the first and second floors.   The new displays will help establish a signature space that announces to visitors that they are in the National Museum of American History. 

No Stamp Act teapot, about 1776-1770.  This English-made teapot celebrates the 1766 repeal of the Stamp Act, the first direct tax by the British on the American colonies. 

After months of culling through the vast array of the Museum’s collection, the exhibition team has chosen a final list of objects whose themes are as diverse as the Museum’s collection itself, ranging from medicine to the economy to popular culture.  The Museum has chosen objects of different sizes, materials, age, and color to create an interesting visual experience for visitors.

The walls will be organized around twelve historical themes:

  • Arts
  • Popular Culture
  • Business, Work, and the Economy
  • Home and Family
  • Community
  • Land and Natural Resources
  • Peopling America
  • Politics and Reform
  • Science
  • Medicine
  • Technology
  • America’s  Role in the World

An artist’s rendering of a typical Artifact Wall case.  Cases are nine feet high and nearly 3 feet deep.

Sixy feet on the first floor of the museum will also be devoted to special cases, sections of the Artifact Walls whose artifacts revolve around a specific topic. These cases will allow the Museum to highlight new research, recent acquisitions, anniversaries, and heritage months. The topics that visitors can expect to see when the Museum reopens include Civil War Printing; Marketing Medicines, 1880-1930; Mobilizing Young Minds, 1950-1970 (a presentation of math and science education in the age of Sputnik); Barriers to Bridges (a look at Asian immigration after Exclusion); Tortillas and Tamales, Lettuce and Strawberries, Grapes and Wine (a consideration of the Mexican American experience).

Landmark Objects
Large, dramatic objects will anchor each wing of the first, second, and third floors.  These Landmark Objects will help visitors identify their location in the building.
Landmark Objects have been chosen for each wing of the exhibition floors: the John Bull locomotive and an 1845 railroad bridge; the telescope used by America’s first woman astronomer; the Greensboro lunch counter from the famous civil rights protest; Horatio Greenough’s monumental sculpture of George Washington; a Red Cross ambulance used during the Spanish-American War; and a Dumbo car from Disneyland. These visually striking objects will announce exhibition themes and serve as directional markings for visitors.

One of the most significant protests of the civil rights movement took place at this lunch counter in 1960.

For more information on the concept development of Artifact Walls and Landmark Objects, see Part 1 of this article.

Stay Tuned
Each of the six Landmark Objects will be profiled in upcoming articles.  Sign up for our monthly e-mail newsletter to stay informed of the latest news about the Museum’s exciting renovation project.