Sam Noble Museum
Team of designers create exhibits in natural history museum
Ryan Boyce, The Oklahoma Daily
GO AND DO
Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History
Monday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Sunday 1 to 5 p.m.
$3 children (6-17)
Free to OU students and children under 5
Free the first Monday of each month
For the past eight years, Tom Luczycki has brought blue prints to life at the Sam Noble Museum of Natural History, designing and fabricating unique exhibits to tell stories from the past.
Luczycki manages the four-part design team, which is composed of a cabinetmaker, a multimedia specialist, a graphic designer and a general technician.
“I’m the guy that makes things look pretty and makes sure they get into the gallery on time, on budget,” Luczycki said.
Luczycki came to OU’s museum after working at the Michigan Science Center in Detroit. Although the leap from science to natural history took some getting used to, Luczycki said he’s enjoyed the change.
“I’m big into boomerangs and things like that, so I already had an interest in many of the pre-agricultural skills on display here like spear throwing,” Luczycki said. “And who the hell doesn’t like dinosaurs?”
In addition to being responsible for the care and maintenance of the permanent exhibits that are on display, Luczycki also plans for the two changing exhibits in the museum, filling the spaces with rental exhibits from other institutions, as well as original ones created by the in-house design team and collection curators.
Making rental exhibits fit in their space can be a bit of a challenge at times, Luczycki said, because he has to merge floor plans and measurements for exhibits that weren’t necessarily made for the space he can allot.
Because of that, sometimes exhibit ideas fall through, even with the hours and days spent planning and tinkering — but it’s just another part of the job, he said.
Composing floor plans may be time consuming, but it doesn’t stop there, Luczycki said.
Sometimes gathering artifacts and building the correct cases for display pieces can take anywhere from a few months to a few years, depending on the exhibit, Luczycki said.
“We like to dream big but also have to be footed in reality of what can happen in terms of time, scope and budget on these projects,” Luczycki said.
And what exactly is it like seeing your designs and blueprints come to life?
Luczycki said he has mixed feelings on completing exhibits but tries to take the time to appreciate them since it is so easy to keep on going once a project is finished.
“You don’t get things done to get things done. You get things done to do the next thing,” Luczycki said. “It’s just a continual process.”
A lot of consideration goes into the finished product of an exhibit, all the way down to the humidity of the space and lighting, he said.
One of the many tools that has been helpful in exhibit production is a 3D printer, that runs on plastic filaments to print objects and pieces the in-house design team may need for a project.
The 3D printer, a black half open box with a blue light in the center, could be mistaken for a normal printer — but instead of printing pictures of dinosaur bones, it prints tangible pieces with multiple dimensions.
“Imagine an Etch A Sketch, but now you’ve got a hot glue gun on it,” Luczycki said.
This machine has helped with the construction of exhibits, including the juvenile Apatosaurus model on display in the museum.
“We had about 15 percent of this creature and then we had to figure out the rest,” Luczycki said.
In a partnership with a former 3D printing company, SEAM, pictures of the dinosaur were scanned and printed, helping to complete the missing pieces of the puzzle.
Although technological advances like the 3D printer have helped exhibit design, it has not entirely replaced old methods of exhibit construction.
“Once the whole beast was printed, we went back to the traditional method of molding and casting of all those parts, because we weren’t sure of the longevity of the material,” Luczycki said.
Power tools and machines slice through materials used for exhibits, but these displays still have to be shaped by human minds and hands.
But Luczycki can’t do it alone. His in-house design team helps with every step of the process, from cutting and sawing to recording and taping.
Rick Whitehead, carpenter for the in-house design team, has been working with Sam Noble exhibits for 28 years. He is in charge of exhibit construction.
Whitehead said the workshop is his place to be creative.
“Tom does most of the design work on the projects, and then I get the drawings and material to turn a piece of paper into a tangible exhibit,” Whitehead said.
Just down the hall from the carpentry workshop, Michael McCarty, records voice over’s for audio in exhibits, as well as keeping language recordings archived for educational and historical reference.
McCarty, the museum media specialist, works to preserve the languages of countless Indian tribes in Oklahoma, including people of the Creek tribe.
As a former musician, McCarty has had extensive experience with recording and working with audio pieces, which inspired him to do the same kinds of things in the museum, he said.
Luczycki and his team plan to continue designing and creating exhibits, with long hours of research and a passion for making history aesthetically pleasing.
“We have probably one of the best exhibit shops anywhere, I’d have to say,” Luczycki said.