Putting an Exhibit on the Wall


Tamara Martz was working for local jeweler Judie Gumm in 2005 and taking metalsmithing classes to prepare for what she hoped would be a creative career. She was also serving drinks at the Alaska Coffee Roasting Company to help pay the bills. That’s where she was on the day that the museum’s graphic designer handed her an application. The museum was in the final stages of its expansion and needed someone who could design and fabricate mounts for the new objects to be put on exhibit.

She started as a production assistant, making scores of mounts for the new Rose Berry Alaska Art Gallery. “I did a quick count and came up with 172 mounts, mostly metal, some acrylic.” And not one of them has fallen down.

Now Tamara is the museum’s exhibit & graphic designer. She’s responsible for designing the ads and brochures used to promote the museum’s programs and events. And she’s still putting things on the wall. She designs the special exhibits that are created by the production team. From Hibernation & the Science of Cold to the current exhibit-in-production, Arctic Odyssey: Voyages of the R/V Sikuliaq, she brings concepts and facts to a physical form, relying on images and pictures to do what words often can’t.

“I’m a picture person. Words don’t really work for me. When an exhibit does it right, you can figure out the story without reading a word.”

But she makes the words look good, too! Whether it’s laying them out in diary form, as she did in the Denali Legacy exhibit, or building a more traditional panel, Tamara has been taking big creative risks, letting each exhibit evolve from scratch, rather than forcing text into a template.

A rough draft of a panel. The text will be edited and the whole thing may look very different once it’s on exhibit.

“It can be a struggle,” she says. “I usually reach a point where I just want to run away. But by working collaboratively with the rest of the exhibit team, I manage to find my way through.”

That means making a mock exhibit in the weeks before an exhibit opens, putting half-formed panels and graphics on the wall. It’s not until she can see it from that perspective – and through the eyes of her collaborators – that Tamara is able to reach the final stage.

With less than two months left before opening day, Tamara is racing the clock. She needs to get the layout finalized so she can get files to the printers. There are still infographics to design and text to be edited. Still, there is reason to stick around and see it through.

“I’ve always loved art and art museums,” she says. “I am fascinated by the challenge of taking complicated concepts and making them accessible to a large audience. If I can make myself understand what’s being said, I figure anyone can.”

Arctic Odyssey: Voyages of the R/V Sikuliak opens May 10 in the Special Exhibits Gallery.

— Posted by Theresa Bakker, media coordinator


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s