Thursday, April 29, 2010

An Interview with Chris Sancomb

Recently MuseumCorps educator Kevin Broydrick sat down with Chris Sancomb, Museum exhibit designer and fabricator, to talk about Underland, the newest Museum exhibit opening in June.

Tell me about your role at the Museum.
I’m the exhibit designer and fabricator. When we plan new exhibits I design all of the components and the environments. I also build all of the exhibits or contract local artists or craftspeople to help me with the fabrication of everything and then I maintain those exhibits.
Chris at work in the shop, on a mastodon skeleton

What makes Underland unique?
Underland is so much about the pretend play environment, with lots of loose parts and components that inspire pretend play. It’s less about components that stand alone. The environment is very sculptural and rich and there’s a lot of carving and art in this exhibit. We’re making all sorts of tools and utensils that can be used for pretend play. We’re having great costumes made so kids can become the creatures that live in this area. Everything is native; it’s all animals that would live in this region.
Carved wooden chairs and utensils

What have been your inspirations in designing Underland?
In content, a lot of children’s literature inspired it. Stories like Beatrix Potter’s and Watership Down, any kind of underground creatures that generate this fantasy world. Visual influence has been everything from Pan’s Labyrinth to one of the Narnia movies where there was a badger living under a tree, even more recent things like The Fantastic Mr. Fox – anything that can shape that visual environment. The natural world in general had an influence. There’s so much good visual material in the natural world, it was easy to start taking that and putting it all together.
A mural of the burrow wall

Tell me about the team of assistants and volunteers you have helping you design and fabricate the exhibit.
I’ve got a couple of people I’ve hired and several who are volunteers. I’ve got people with backgrounds in sculpture and carving, wood carving and stone carving. I’ve also got someone who’s a painter so he’ll be helping with a lot of the finish on certain elements. I’ve even got a volunteer who came to me with experience working with LEDs, which is exactly what the chandelier is made of, so this ready-made expert walked in and took our idea and has been helping with the development the whole way through. We put out a call for artists and found three Rhode Island artists who are designing various components. It’s very “Rhode Island” through and through, and it’s got a good feeling to it.
Chandeliers in progress

What’s your favorite aspect of Underland?
All of the natural wood is fantastic. We’re using an organic linseed finish on everything so it’s a very healthy exhibit in a lot of ways. It’s great being able to work with natural material as opposed to, say, cabinet making where you’re using a lot of plywood and solvent-based finishing. All the natural material coupled with the imaginative aspect of the pretend play environment is going to make this exhibit really fun.
Underland raw materials

Click here to learn about the process of planning this new exhibit. And stay tuned for more behind-the-scenes Underland updates!


Margaret Middleton said...

Thanks for the sneak preview! The carved chairs are so beautiful. I can't wait to come back and see it all together.

Megan Fischer, Providence Children's Museum said...

Margaret, I can't wait to see the beautiful costumes you designed for Underland. Please do come back & visit!