South Street Seaport Museum Tool Exhibit

Merit Award 2014

While working on another project at the South Street Seaport Museum, Cooper Joseph Studio’s design team discovered a huge number of tools that had been stored unceremoniously in boxes, then set out on sheets on the floor. The museum had planned to take them off site, but Cooper Joseph suggested the idea of collecting them in an exhibit.

The resulting display is housed in one of the rooms of the renovated 19th century warehouse buildings at the South Street Seaport. Located on the fourth floor, the room is about 18 feet wide and 50 feet long. Cooper Joseph’s design concept was to show as many of the different tools as possible, and to show many of each type. In this way, the visitor appreciates the vast number of tools required in the maritime world, as well as the subtle variations of design and scale between the same type of tool, since they were all fabricated by hand.

The team set out to create a neatly organized composition of only tools. The “table” fits snugly into the room, rising from 12 to 60 inches front to back, just high enough to give a good view of all the tools, but not to obscure the window. The team established a grid over the entire surface with blue string, much like graph paper. In that way they could maintain perpendicular lines of orientation as they laid out the tools. Starting around the edges, they began the process intuitively, with two people doing the layout and five volunteers handing off the items. The display was created in one long workday. Accompanying the table is a series of touchscreen monitors that display images and provide content about the tools’ purposes and how they were used.

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Jury Comments: 

“This exhibit is wonderfully effective as a simple celebration of tools as art objects. The scale and stark visual appearance in contrast to the rough-hewn nature of the room enhance its power. For me this needs very little explanation. I just wanted to study the ingenuity behind each tool and respect it for its inherent beauty. As a 3D collage, this is so well composed that it invites contemplation and wonder.”

Design Firm: 

Cooper Joseph Studio


South Street Seaport Museum

Location City: 

New York

Project Area: 

390 sq ft

Open Date: 

January 2012

Project Budget: 


Photo Credits: 

Eduard Hueber/ArchPhoto, Inc

Design Team: 

Wendy Evans Joseph, Chris Cooper (principals in charge); Annika Bowker (project manager/design team)



Anita Jorgensen Lighting Design (lighting design)


Random Exhibit Services, LLC (general contractor)

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