Category Archives: Museums & exhibitions

Royal Berkshire Medical Museum

I was saddened today to hear of the death of Marshall Barr, a retired consultant anaesthetist at the Royal Berskhire Hospital in Reading. I met Marshall in 2007 when I was working with Martin Andrews on the redevelopment of the hospital’s medical museum.

Martin and I were both working part-time in the Department of Typography & Graphic Communication at the University of Reading at the time, where we shared an office in its collection centre, teaming up occasionally on freelance commissions too.

Every Monday for a year we would drive down to London Road, park up in front the Renal Unit, and walk down to the old laundry room in the hospital basement to meet with Marshall and the team of volunteers – all retired doctors and nurses – who staff the museum and care for its collection.

Marshall was warm and funny, always in a good mood, cheerful and charming. You couldn’t say no to him simply because he was such a genuinely nice chap. I remember he used to call me ‘gorgeous Nadja’ in his soft Australian accent whenever he wanted a favour.

He was also incredibly knowledgable of medical history and a gifted storyteller, bringing out object after object from the hospital archives and setting them into context for us. The themes and ideas around which we centred our design just seemed to emerge naturally from our discussions with him.

The museum is structured, both thematically and in terms of the physical space, around key areas of medicine and patient care, including ENT, ophthalmology, pharmacy, and nursing. Each area is represented by recreating a real-life environment – an operating theatre, a room on ward, a dentist’s surgery – combining large image backdrops with real objects.

The material is displayed displayed with a density and richness unusual in twenty-first century museum design. Think Pitt Rivers before it was reopened – Marshall’s doing of course. Each reconstruction scene is headed by a title, and text panels and object captions are colour-coded in a contemporary palette in order to clearly define each section.

Text panels, detailed object captions, wall lettering of selected quotes, timelines and chronologies provide different levels of information that cater for different audiences, and offer variety and choice in exploring the museum.

I learnt a lot from Marshall – a great many things about poking and prodding the human body that I never wanted to know, and many, many more things I always wanted to know but had never had explained to me so clearly, patiently and enthusiastically. It sounds corny but it’s true: the place won’t be the same without you Marshall, and I will miss you.

The World in Reading

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The World in Reading is a thematic introduction to the rich and diverse collection at Reading Museum. The brief for this museum guide was to conveys the sense of inspiration and enjoyment that can be derived from studying and handling real objects, whether they relate to Reading’s local historical and natural environment or other cultures around the world.

The design combines a contemporary palette, clean sans serif and flexible grid to show off the collection at Reading. Juxtaposition of different image treatments provides variety of colour, texture, shape, and scale.

The cover illustrates the breadth of the Museum collection and provides ‘teasers’ which hint at the treasures to be discovered.

Colour, collage and constructions

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Design work for this exhibition of the joyful and vibrant work of British abstract artist Terry Frost at the Museum of Reading included an advertisement in the Royal Academy Magazine, exhibition poster, events programme, private view invitation card, catalogue and gallery interpretation panel.

Close liaision with museum staff, photographers, and printers was essential to ensure a high-quality finish and accurate colour reproduction of the works in print.

The epic scale of the works on show is reflected in the catalogue, where each work takes up a whole page, while relative sizes are maintained as much as possible. The square format of the catalogue caters for both portrait and landscape images.

The Irish European

Client: Reading Museum & University of Reading (2006)

Design work for this exhibition about the life and work of Irish playwright Samuel Beckett comprised an exhibition poster, events programme, and private view invitation cards, as well as gallery panels, wall lettering, and object labels.

A hierarchy of information caters for different audiences and provides multiple access points to the exhibition :

  • punchy introductory quotations to set the scene for Beckett’s life at the time
  • strong chronological headings to structure the space and guide visitors through the exhibition, followed by limited introductory text and illustrations
  • more extensive text panels which deliberately gave more in-depth information and allowed for more sustained reading
  • object labels with levels of information as appropriate to the objects.

I worked very closely with 3D designer Martin Andrews to ensure the text was integrated in a thearical and visually exciting way. This was particularly so with large panels with carefully selected quotations from Beckett’s plays which became an integral part of the stage reconstruction on a central scaffolding structure.