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What’s on your exhibit bucket list?

The Hingham Historical Society’s new Heritage Museum bucket list: visible storage, hands-on math interactive, research facilities, extraordinary gift shop

Hingham Historical Society’s bucket list – a visitor experience that combines hands-on interactives with visible storage and a new exhibit

The Hingham Historical Society’s new Heritage Museum exhibit tells the story of “Bucket Town” where energetic and innovative craftsmen created tens of thousands of wooden buckets along with firkins, piggins, pantry boxes, churns, and other essential containers during the 18th and 19th centuries. On the eve of the Revolutionary War, the Committee of Supplies ordered 15,000 canteens to be smuggled to safe areas before the conflict began in Lexington and Concord. When director Suzanne Buchanan took the helm of the Hingham Historical Society in 2007, she composed her own “Bucket list” to fulfill the vision of the Society as it entered its second century.

Director Suzanne Buchanan conferring with designer Ed Malouf on the plans for the Hingham Heritage Museum

Director Suzanne Buchanan conferring with designer Ed Malouf on the plans for the Hingham Heritage Museum

First on the list, make the 198-year-old Old Derby Academy a modern museum facility. Currently the headquarters of the Hingham Historical Society, it is an 18th-century building minimal electricity and heating, and no air conditioning or the climate control required to protect a collection. Second, an exhibit gallery so the Society can exhibit this collection. Third, a visible storage gallery to make accessible as much of the balance of the collection that is not on display. Fourth, an inaugural installation in the new gallery featuring highlights from their bucket and toy collection. Fifth, create a new and enlarged archives room for the many researchers who return to Hingham to trace their roots and sixth, a new “Out of the Ordinary” gift shop for souvenirs unique to Hingham’s history.

The Old Derby Academy under construction

With the 2.9 million dollar renovation of Old Derby Academy halfway to completion, this bucket list will be “kicked” by December after years in the making. The Ballroom Gallery will feature the Boxes, Buckets, and Toys; The Craftsmen of Hingham exhibit with over 50 artifacts on display from their collection as well as interactive experiences on bucket taxonomy and the legacy of Hingham’s craftsmen on today’s landscape. The star of the new visible storage gallery will be the magnificent Gay Desk emerging from storage for the first time. It will be surrounded by a striking collection of objects currently located in the less accessible and unheated or air-conditioned Old Ordinary. The Gift Shop will be larger and will include a media corner, and the archives room will be so large returning researchers might get lost.

ooden buckets along with firkins, piggins, pantry boxes, churns, and other essential containers during the 18th and 19th centuries

Left, typical Hingham bucket, right William Seawall Tower’s “Fancy Bucket”

Hingham buckets are not your ordinary buckets, a miniature Hingham Firkin signed by Caleb Hersey is valued between $ 2,000 and $ 4,000. The word “bucket” does not do justice to the remarkable craftsmanship that went into these utilitarian objects to hold flour, nails, feathers, beans, water or any other item a colonial skilled worker or cook might require. The elegant proportion and strapped banding technique evoke the classic swallowtail projections of the well-known Shaker box. When the market for boxes shifted away from the handcrafted product to mill manufacture, the Hingham craftsmen created a whole new industry— wooden toys, especially miniature furniture. They drew upon their expertise to create miniature versions of the buckets and pails they once made for the general trade. Dollhouse scaled chests of drawers, ladder-backed chairs and bedroom sets delighted young people all across the country. As part of this “Objects for Lesure” display, there is a “Fancy Bucket” made by William Tower built from 47,568 individual pieces of dark and light colored wood.

This exhibit will not only feature the breath of the collection but will demonstrate how the bucket functioned in the colonial and early industrial economy. How much did a firkin of butter weigh compared to a firkin of feathers? How many buckets would you order to transport 100 pounds of nails? What is your weight in buckets of water? These questions and others will facilitate visible math skill development for the Hingham 3rd and 5th-graders.

Design presentation for “Boxes, Buckets, and Toys”

Our contribution to checking off this “bucket of lists” is modest compared to the years advocacy by Ms. Buchanan and the Historical Society Board. But our planning, design, writing, research, and construction oversight makes for a small bucket of a list all on its own. Visit Bucket Town, a.k.a. Hingham Massachusetts, later this year to experience the lore of the bucket yourself.

1 year, 9 months ago Comments Off on What’s on your exhibit bucket list?

3 ways to transform a nature center into a nerve center

Interactive map at Silver Lake Nature Center in Bristol, Pennsylvania

The third space is central to community vitality

Silver Lake Nature Center unites community members in a positive, shared experience through purposeful exhibit content and design. Most of us are busy beavers when it comes to activities of daily living. We rise and shine at home, trudge off to work, shuttle back, and repeat the cycle.

When we do stop to take a breath, it’s often not at home or work but a public gathering place like a park, restaurant, hair salon, or library. The urban sociologist Ray Oldenburg studied these so-called third spaces (or third places), and, in his books The Great Good Place and Celebrating the Third Place, argued they are central to community vitality: “The character of a third place is determined most of all by its regular clientele and is marked by a playful mood, which contrasts with people’s more serious involvement in other spheres. …They are the heart of a community’s social vitality, the grassroots of democracy, but sadly, they constitute a diminishing aspect of the American social landscape.”

We think about Oldenburg’s work a lot at Content Design Collaborative. How can we design community-driven nature centers and museums that promote feelings of warmth, possession, and belonging? How do we ground visitors in a sense of place?

Flip book at Silver Lake Nature Center in Bristol, Pennsylvania

Silver Lake Nature Center

A useful case study is the Silver Lake Nature Center in Bristol, Pennsylvania. Local residents have treasured Silver Lake’s 235 acres and 4.5 miles of trails since the property was converted from a farm to a nature center in 1987. The County of Bucks Parks and Recreation Department asked us to design a new visitor center for Silver Lake that inspires connections with nature for people of all ages. Our collaborative process—including workshops with community members and back-and-forth with the County—allowed us to develop a beautiful, more vibrant third space. Here are three ways we did it.

Before and after at Silver Lake Nature Center in Bristol, Pennsylvania

1. Bring the outdoors inside.

The original visitor center (seen in this walkthrough) was a dark, confined space with tired exhibits and unwelcoming partitions. Without expanding the footprint, we designed an open floor plan with walls of glass, clear sightlines, and free-flowing, accessible pathways through the exhibit areas. This “room with a view” now serves as a bright, beautiful reception area that encourages visitors to interact with staff and get ready to go outside. Visitors gather at a 12’x8’ site map to plan their hikes. This area serves as an attractive new meeting room that motivates residents to preserve the living treasure of Silver Lake for generations to come.

Observatory at Silver Lake Nature Center in Bristol, Pennsylvania
2. Appeal to all ages.


A welcoming third space is family-friendly and offers something for all generations. Silver Lake’s original visitor center featured a replica tree that young people could sit inside. The exhibit was popular but well past its shelf life. When brainstorming replacement ideas, we got down on the floor to see the world through the eyes of preschoolers. Our answer was nifty with bubble-shaped terrariums housing indigenous turtles. Small children can safely observe the animals up close and delight in the “just-for-me” scale. This exhibit shows respects for Silver Lake’s youngest learners and inspires their appreciation for nature.

Photography by community member Clarance King at Silver Lake Nature Center in Bristol, Pennsylvania

3. Tap the brainpower of local residents.

One secret to developing unique content is to collaborate with the community who have a personal interest in the project’s success. They often can help us unearth photographs and stories you can’t find anywhere else. For this project, we turned to professional photographer and historian Clarence King, whose family once owned the Silver Lake farm. Only someone with a firsthand knowledge of the land and history could capture a gorgeous shot like the one above!

Today, visitors to Silver Lake Nature Center kick off their outdoor adventure with a positive, informative experience that bolsters community pride and togetherness. We hope they will want to come again and again. Contact us about your next project. We have lots of good ideas.


Exhibit photographs by Justin DeRosa

1 year, 10 months ago Comments Off on 3 ways to transform a nature center into a nerve center

Accessibility is The Visitor Experience

Design for the most important factor—access

The Florida Department of Parks and Recreation needed to transform their crown jewel visitor center, Paynes Prairie Preserve; we zeroed in on the most important factor in our design brief—visitor accessibility.

While could not change the incredible landscape with a 500-foot long winding path through the hammock that connects the parking lot to the visitor center. Design decisions can remedy the slanted theater floor and the four-foot high reception counter that receives visitors. Before immersive theater concepts or ecosystem dioramas, the building had to make welcoming and accessible to all!



Our program reduces the institutional wall between the staff and visitors and makes it easier for the enthusiastic staff to do their job preparing visitors to experience the hundreds of miles of trails available to hike. Instead of a front desk counter we designed a reception island. A ranger can easily step from behind the island to point out destinations on a visitors map. An under-utilized doorway area we turned into a retail area that did not exist.


The lecture-style auditorium with its tapered floor and single access are now a walk-through theater that shares the same floor level as everywhere else. These important changes, along with the proposed expansion, affected more than half the area of the visitor center.

The Friends of Paynes Prairie has begun a fundraising campaign to implement the exhibit program, click here  to learn more and to make a donation.

1 year, 10 months ago Comments Off on Accessibility is The Visitor Experience

Sailing 3,200 miles ocean to do it THEIR way

Interpreting root causes for significant historical events

Leiden American Pilgrim Museum Foundation

During the Plymouth 400 forum last month Michaël Roumen, director of Cultuurfonds Leiden, gave a sweeping overview of the places where the emigrants lived, worked and prayed. The streets, garden, and estate they lived in, and most importantly, Pieterskerk, remain unchanged since 1620 when the voyage took place. While here in Plymouth we can point to Leyden Street as being the location of the first “main street” in continuous use in the original 13 colonies, it does not in any way resemble the fabled street trod upon by the settlers in 1621.

In our exhibit Plymouth 1620-2020 visitors will see how the Leiden experience informed the Pilgrim’s decision to establish a new colony where all the inhabitants shared a zealousness for their faith. Their decision took place in Leiden, which allowed open discussion of religious debates, such as the one their pastor Robinson participated in around 1616.

A flythrough animation of this exhibit presented at the forum by Edward Malouf of Content•Design demonstrated the variety of experiences that keep the visitor engaged, beginning with the Wampanoag and ending with Plymouth the 21st-century city. The Leiden experience is yet another layer in the incredible saga that makes the story of Plymouth Colony one for all ages.

The English separatists left the peace and relative security of one of Europe’s most enlightened cities, Leiden, to forge a new settlement of their making in a foreign land inhabited by people very different from themselves. While life in Holland hardly resembled what they left behind in Scrooby in the East Midlands of England, the congregation of John Robinson was free of persecution. Several members had positions of distinction, William Brewster taught English at Leiden University while John Robinson enrolled there to pursue his doctorate. However, most of the emigrants toiled in the handicrafts. They lived together a small estate near the famous Pieterskerk, a cathedral built in the 15th century.

“Of Plymouth Plantation” William Bradford

In his great history “Of Plymouth Plantation” William Bradford describes in detail their reasons for departing; the hard work required to maintain their standard of living (as modest it was); loss of the younger generation to becoming soldiers or seafarers in the Dutch service; or worse—

“…tending to dissoluteness and the danger of their souls, to the great grief of their parents and dishonor of God.”

He ends with a grand vision of setting up elsewhere

“…advancing the gospel of the kingdom of Christ in those remote parts of the world; yea, though they should be stepping-stones unto others for the performing of so great a work.”


1 year, 10 months ago Comments Off on Sailing 3,200 miles ocean to do it THEIR way

Mills of Woonsocket

This video illustrates the conceptual design of the “Mills of Woonsocket.”

This multi-touch and multi-user digital experience. Using the latest in gestural interface technology, this new exhibit will allow  Museum of Work Culture visitors to explore how the explosive growth of mill production transformed the landscape of Woonsocket.

In the process of creating this exhibit, the Museum will compile extensive data on Woonsocket’s mills, which they will offer as a visitor-accessible database about the mills’ workforces, products, and relation to the city.

Please help us realize this new vision for interpreting our state’s history by making a donation to the Museum’s “Help Wanted” initiative:

Museum of Work and Culture
42 South Main Street
Woonsocket, RI 02895

Please indicate on your check and the envelope, “The Mill Project.”

For further information, please contact Museum Director Anne Conway to 401.769.9675 x1.

1 year, 11 months ago Comments Off on Mills of Woonsocket