Duck, Duck, Exhibition Design

By: Amalia Wojciechowski, assistant director and collections curator on September 27th, 2023

There’s an old joke that goes: “Why don’t ducks like reading directions? Because they prefer to wing it!” While that may be just fine for our waterfowl friends, the same thing doesn’t fly for exhibition design!

An architectural rendering of a gallery space.

A mockup of the design for the lower-level gallery done in SketchUp.

Magazine cover featuring two hunters with ducks in the foreground.

Font inspiration came from a 1970 issue of Field & Stream.

A woman walking in front of a taped off wall with shelves.

The final installation schematic with a few of the first “test” shelves in place.

Opening alongside this year’s Birds in Art, The Real Decoy (September 9 to February 25, 2024) is a permanent collection exhibition that features 90+ duck decoys. To get these ducks in a row, our curatorial staff had to plan the process from storage to their eventual display on the gallery walls. The impact of seeing the ducks — arranged in orderly rows viewable in a single glance — in storage inspired us to try out an exhibition design that similarly highlighted the stunning range and scale of the many Woodson Art Museum decoys. From there, we brainstormed. We chose a paint color that matched a wood duck’s warm brown feathers; a font, used throughout the exhibition labels and didactics, inspired by Field & Stream magazines from the 1970s; and other small design details, like pulling vinyl designs from 1940s vintage decoy sinkers. Finally, it was time for the ducks to fly the coop, making their way from storage to the newly installed display in the Museum’s lower-level gallery. With a little bit of tape, a few dozen hours of installing shelves, and a lot of gentle handling, each of the ducks was home on their new perch. Now that we’ve “beaked” your interest, come and see how all these small elements add up to something big!

A few duck decoys placed on a series of white shelves.

The first few ducks are placed.

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