Carmel Church traveling exhibit

2012-12-11aOver the last several months we’ve greatly increased our production rate of molds and casts, especially of Carmel Church specimens. This was done with a specific goal in mind; we’re trying to build a traveling exhibit on the Carmel Church Quarry. 

As regular readers already know, Carmel Church is one of the densest accumulations of vertebrate fossils in eastern North America. After excavating only a few thousand square feet we’ve recovered many thousands of fossils representing at least 56 species, including nearly two dozen cetacean skulls. This is the kind of site you can build an exhibit around.

We already have two small permanent exhibits about Carmel Church, at VMNH in Martinsville and at the Caroline County Visitor Center. I’m proud of both of these exhibits, but they only tell small parts of the Carmel Church story and I’ve always wanted to get more out there.

Last February two events began to shape for me how we might do a Carmel Church traveling exhibit. During the legislative session, VMNH set up a week-long exhibit in the lobby of Virginia’s General Assembly Building. The exhibit featured the diversity of Carmel Church, and was well received. Less than two weeks later, I took the same specimens for a one-night display for Darwin Day at Roanoke College. I learned two major points with these exhibits. First, the Carmel Church specimens are too fragile for regular use in a traveling exhibit (a couple of them broke), so we would have to use casts. Second, the exhibit took a long time to set up and take down for such short-duration displays. We were going to have to come up with a way of streamlining the installation process.

A few months later we hired Ray Vodden as our new lab manager. Ray has a lot of experience with molding, casting, and reconstruction modeling, so that gave us an increased ability to produce the casts we would need.


I also approached VMNH volunteer Mike Morriss, who has produced customized cases for us in the past, to see what we could do about making a traveling exhibit case that could be set up and taken down quickly. We came up with a case design that can be set up or dismantled by two people in under a minute. Two prototype cases are shown set up at the top of the page, and below is one of them broken down for transport:


The beauty of these cases is that the display surface is metallic. That means we can attach magnets to the casts and the labels, and there is no need to wrap the specimens for transport. Everything is already stored in the case, ready for display. Since the casts are not permanently mounted, we can easily reconfigure the cases to update or modify the display.

Another aspect of this exhibit will be the interactive components. We’re planning to use iPads to accompany many of the displays. The interactives will be modeled on the virtual field trips that Brett and I have been working on, and in fact we’ve already shot a lot of the photos and video for the exhibit.

The exhibit will use a modular layout. While Carmel Church will be the overall theme, most of the modules can stand alone, so that we will have a functional exhibit as soon as the first few components are funded. For example, one module will feature the flipper of “Nemo”, another will feature “Sinistra“, while a third will discuss evidence for trophic relationships. We currently have 12 different modules in the planning stage. The use of modules gives us a great deal of flexibility for travel venues; using just two modules we can install a complete exhibit in an area as small as 10 square feet, or using all the modules (once they are funded) as large as 3,000 square feet. The module layout also provides lots of sponsorship opportunities, which is how we plan to pay for the exhibit. Most of the individual modules can be sponsored for only $2,000.

If you’re interested in sponsoring a module or supporting this project, contact either me or Ryan Barber. I’m hoping in the near future to have a direct donation link as well.

Media coverage of this project:

Martinsville Bulletin



This entry was posted in Carmel Church Quarry, Paleontological techniques, Science, education, and philosophy. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Carmel Church traveling exhibit

  1. Doug says:

    Very cool! and just where might this be headed off to?

  2. altondooley says:

    The next scheduled location (other than at VMNH) is at Roanoke College for Darwin Day.

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