It’s official—with our calendars now turned to November, it’s full-speed-ahead into the winter holiday season, a time marked by some of our most cherished traditions. For us Americans, this means a Thanksgiving full of great food, football, family, and friends—followed by the December holidays and capped off with the fireworks of New Years. We embrace our traditions, cherish them, and reminisce about them throughout the year.
If you were asked to create a museum exhibit about these traditions, how would you go about it? What themes might you focus on? What objects and other mementos would you display? What stories would you highlight?
Interpreting traditions—of a country, a culture, or even a simple family—is both powerful and difficult. Whenever we at Taylor Studios interpret traditions within our exhibits, we ask ourselves some important questions:
- What is the larger meaning—or meanings—behind a tradition?We all know that turkey is just turkey, a plain ol’ meat that adorns the deli sandwiches we eat for a typical, boring lunch—but come Thanksgiving, turkey is transformed into something magical, a symbol of a day full of friendship, family, love, and togetherness. This is not because the bird itself has changed. Nope, it’s because of the meaning we give to it on that special day. When creating an exhibit, we search for the simple and humble everyday things—such as turkey, or sleigh bells, or candles—and dive into the deeper meanings behind what they represent. Through this exploration, the true relevance of the tradition is discovered.
- What sights, sounds, smells, stories, tastes, and “feels” define the tradition?The best exhibits are multisensory experiences—and displays about traditions are no exception. What does a particular celebration sound like? Is there music in the air, laughter in the room? What can you smell? Incense, perfume, food baking in the oven? What tastes define it? Pumpkin pie, cranberry sauce, your aunt’s cinnamon rolls? By incorporating more than just text, images, and objects, exhibits can give visitors a true experience of a powerful tradition.
- Finally—but most importantly—whose tradition is it?It goes without saying that first and foremost, you need to consider the culture, group, or person whose tradition you’re exhibiting. They should have authorship and the most powerful voice in creating your exhibits and the experiences that you display. This is not merely “political correctness” or overblown “cultural sensitivity”—it is just the simple truth that traditions are best understood by those who create them, live them, and carry them on.
Okay, so now you’re ready to create a powerful exhibit about traditions and the deep and memorable meanings that underlie them. But, hey, first go and enjoy some turkey, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie. As they say, the best way to learn about something is to do it!