Rosalie Winard has produced dramatic images of America’s majestic wetland birds in more than a decade of travel worldwide. The Utah Museum of Natural History’s Wild Birds of the American Wetlands exhibit showcases 53 of Winard’s photos, creating a space that blurs the distinction between art and nature.
The UMNH design team’s challenge was to transform a generic temporary exhibit space into a cohesive experience made from many moments representing a bird’s diverse life. The images are unique depictions of avian life that Winard has observed over time. Collectively they flock together to create an experience that inspires visitors to squint, observe high and low, laugh, think, pause, and sometimes even flap their arms like the wings of these dynamic birds.
The exhibit’s unremarkable entry vestibule was transformed with a 68-in. lightbox used to display an image of a wood stork landing. Red columns invited visitors into the hall, and the breaks between them provide glimpses into the world of birds. The columns emphasize the vertical nature of a bird’s world and they conceptually prepare the visitor for “takeoff.”
Images of birds, grouped by graphic form, activity, or species portraiture, are represented in a variety of different ways to establish a rhythm of discovery. Chiffon banners emphasize vertical space and movement. Their translucent nature creates moments of inquiry and observation by overlapping with other images. While swaying softly in reaction to movement in the gallery, they accentuate the ephemeral quality of birds and landscape.
The majority of photos are printed on canvas and appear to “float” on the wall. The canvas yields an amazing quality that captures the fine details, texture, and wide range of tones in the black and white photographs. Stretcher bars mounted directly to the wall allow the images to exist in space with a light elegance that is reminiscent of a bird taking a short rest on a tree branch. Images are grouped together like flocks of birds. Some extend horizontally across an expansive landscape and others are stacked in a vertical gesture connecting sky with land.
Three staggered benches create the backbone of the experience. The benches provide a place to rest and they also tell stories of conservation and habitat loss. A provocative collage of newspaper headlines encourages visitors to look at the images in the show in a completely different way. At this point, the photographs transform from objects of beauty to evidence of the imperiled lives of migratory birds.
“Simple and skillful, this exhibition is the result of a design team making all the right choices.”
“This is an exercise in restraint. The use of a single color, red, with the black and white images is very elegant. The exhibition allows these beautiful photographs to take center stage by its supportive role.”
Rebecca Menlove (principal in charge), Tim Lee (designer)
Rosalie Winard (artist/photographer); Anne Milliken, Anne Bernard (guest curators)
University of Utah Plant Operations (wall fabrication, custom bamboo benches), UMNH Exhibits Department (lightbox fabrication, wall graphics, exhibit installation), Fusion Imaging (scrim graphics, direct-to-substrate bench imaging), Brand-Arts (photo prints, lightbox images)