Status Update – the Museum Gallery is a Hardhat Zone

Written by: Heidi Campbell-Shoaf, DAR Museum Director and Chief Curator
February 12, 2018

Dust hangs in the air at the end of the day in our soon-to-be changing exhibit and study galleries. This dust means progress. It’s generated by cleaning up after hours of hanging gypsum board and mixing plaster. Months of planning finally segued to construction in October 2017, by first removing layers of past remodeling efforts and then beginning work on the new. When finished, the new galleries will meet or exceed current museum standards for exhibit spaces and provide visitors new ways of engaging with the DAR Museum collections.

 Early February brings the construction phase of our gallery remodel project to its mid-point. Much has been accomplished but much still needs doing, here are a few of those things:

  • Demolition of the space stripped away layers of past gallery improvements and additions which had outlived their usefulness giving us feet of new floor space and a higher ceiling.
  • Removing a “temporary” wall built in the 1980s revealed a large crack running down the north side of the gallery. It was likely caused by the 2011 earthquake which damaged a number of buildings in Washington DC. Fortunately, the wall is not load bearing so the damage looked worse than it actually was. These surprises are what make a remodeling project an adventure!
  • New electrical wiring enables us to have new lighting throughout the galleries. This lighting is both ambient (a basic level of light everywhere) and focused (spot lighting for objects on display) reducing the feeling of being in a dark room even if we have to keep light levels low for fragile items like textiles and paper.
  • A dedicated heating and cooling system which dehumidifies and humidifies means we can control the climate in the galleries on the driest days of winter and the muggiest days of summer. It is an important consideration for ensuring our collections are preserved and for our ability to borrow objects from other museums.
  •  Museum staff is working with case fabricators to create custom designed cases to display and protect objects. The new study gallery will hold every type of item the museum collects from furniture and textiles to iron and ceramics. As contractors work on the gallery space, curators and collections staff select objects, verify records and build mounts to hold each item in place.
  • At the same time, museum curators are developing a new changing exhibit called “Lately Arrived: Recent Additions to the Collection” which will be the first in the remodeled gallery. The show highlights objects added to the museum collection over the past five years. They are writing labels and arranging items within the theme, collecting and how it is done, but that is only part of the challenge. The other part is figuring out how the objects will fill the space when you can only imagine it from drawings.

So, we are moving along and as NSDAR headquarters staff can attest, it has not been a quiet ride. Everyone has endured drilling and pounding, grinding and dust as we move toward our goal of spaces that will enhance our visitors’ experience. On behalf of the museum staff we thank our colleagues for their patience, everyone who supported the project with generous donations and we look forward to sharing the finished product with everyone in late spring.


Even though work has started on repairing the crack in the wall, you can still see where it is.

Even though work has started on repairing the crack in the wall, you can still see where it is.

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The new exhibit is a joint effort among all the museum’s curators. So everyone can visualize the objects and the narrative they tell we work with photos of objects to organize and plan.

The new exhibit is a joint effort among all the museum’s curators. So everyone can visualize the objects and the narrative they tell we work with photos of objects to organize and plan.

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Museum collections staff and curators went low tech when working out much space cases will take up in the new study gallery. Painter’s tape on the wall and floor works well.

Museum collections staff and curators went low tech when working out much space cases will take up in the new study gallery. Painter’s tape on the wall and floor works well.

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All sorts of plans go into the creation of the new galleries from floor plans (top) to shop drawings of individual cases (bottom).

All sorts of plans go into the creation of the new galleries from floor plans (top) to shop drawings of individual cases (bottom).

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Some of the first decisions made were the color of the walls, cases and floor. The architects Quinn Evans created this finish board to put them all in one place.

Some of the first decisions made were the color of the walls, cases and floor. The architects Quinn Evans created this finish board to put them all in one place.

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