To celebrate the 200th anniversary of Charles Dickens’s birth, The New York Public Library wanted to present an informative, entertaining exhibition for all ages. Curator William Moeck culled documents and artifacts from the library’s extensive collections.
The client requested a total transformation of the Wachenheim Gallery space, a tiny, 530- square-foot gallery ornately decorated in the Beaux Arts style. The client wanted to include interactive elements that would be both educational and engaging for younger visitors. With these guiding parameters, as well as the curator’s central focus on Dickens’ myriad of wonderful characters and how they have been depicted in art, song, theater, and film, designers Ann Sappenfield and Roger Westerman Design LLC chose a “cabinet of curiosities” theme as a unifying motif. This approach addressed the need to conceal the gallery’s ornate architecture as well as the challenge of presenting a wide variety and large quantity of material, especially for such a small room.
Cabinets of curiosities are meant to be rooms chock full of thought-provoking objects, the affinities between them discoverable through hidden keys or clues. The designers included objects in the cabinet that would visually illustrate the themes of Dickens’s work and life. These objects, ranging from a small stuffed alligator to a Victorian mantel clock set at 8:40, each relate to a specific Dickens character (in this case David Copperfield and Miss Havisham). Cards designed for viewers to take home elaborated on the connections between curious objects and curious characters. The designers together planned every nook and cranny to accommodate the books and artifacts selected by the curator, and with the addition of these additional props, created a real wunderkammer, complete with a crackling fireplace and a working zoetrope.
Ann Sappenfield (exhibition and graphic design), Roger Westerman (exhibition and physical design)
Ann Sappenfield and Roger Westerman Design LLC
530 sq. ft
Wm. Moeck (curator), Tim Cramer, CramerSound (AV design and integration)
New Project LLC (primary fabrication), Plug Digital (environmental graphics), Color X (environmental graphics), Visual Print Solutions, Inc. (brochures and cards), Heartland Scenic Studio (zoetrope fabrication)