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The McClung Museum opened its new exhibit, Northwest Coast Art: A Community of Tradition, last Friday, but the planning for the exhibition began over a year ago.

Then, when all of the pieces were gathered, museum staff and volunteers spent two weeks tearing down the past exhibit and putting up this one. 

Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at what it took to bring Northwest Coast Art to the museum:

Planning, Gathering is Time Consuming

The museum’s exhibition team began planning for Northwest Coast Art in May 2016.

“This exhibition came about after Gerald F. Schroedl, professor emeritus in the Department of Anthropology, proposed it to McClung Museum staff as well as Director Jeff Chapman,” said Catherine Shteynberg, the museum’s assistant director.

While this exhibit was on a tighter timeline, it’s not uncommon for an exhibit to take two or three years to go from planning to opening.

Although Northwest Coast Art includes some pieces from the McClung’s collection, including bowls and spoons, as well as one of the totem poles, many of the show’s pieces come from private collectors and loans from other museums. It’s the same with most exhibits.

“As the only museum on campus and one of the few museums in Knoxville and East Tennessee, it gives us a chance to highlight cultures and art that might not be familiar to people in this area,” Shteynberg said. “This was an opportunity to bring Northwest Coast art to campus.”

Finding the objects for the exhibition was no easy task.

“Dr. Schroedl, spent a lot of time visiting museums, searching online, and meeting with private collectors and art galleries to find objects that would be appropriate for the exhibition,” Shteynberg said.

Whenever the museum receives loan items, there are costs involved.

“Many museums charge loan fees for objects and the time and energy it takes for staff to arrange for loans,” Shteynberg said. “However, the big costs come from the transportation, insurance, and proper packing of the objects.”

For instance, the McClung had to make special arrangements for the gold Bill Reid bracelet featured in the exhibition to be shipped from Canada.

Some pieces are transported via plane by couriers or special art handlers, and sometimes they are shipped safely and securely though the mail.

The museum offsets these costs by fundraising for each exhibition.

Northwest Coast Art received support from First Tennessee Foundation, Ready for the World, Aramark, Larry and Linda Raulston, and Sherry Kirkland Rayson. Additional support came from the City of Knoxville, Knox County, and the Arts and Heritage Fund.

Funding support also provides free programming for K-12 and university students. Sign up for a class visit at the museum.

It Comes Together Very Quickly

While objects were being gathered, the task of designing the actual exhibit was also taking place.

Exhibition Preparator and Coordinator Christopher Weddig’s work began back in 2016—as soon as the exhibition team chose Northwest Coast Art as the fall 2017 exhibition.

“Once we got a checklist of objects I created a 3D floorplan to set individual objects in either cases that we already have or cases that we would have to construct,” Weddig said.

Preparing for the exhibit installation was an all-hands-on-deck process. UT Graduate Student Paris Whalon, the museum’s graphic design intern, helped create special graphics for the exhibition. Curatorial Intern Riley Kliethermes helped write the artist biographies for the show. Curatorial staff and education teams edited label copy and researched objects for associated programming.

Because of the short turnaround, Weddig chose to keep a layout similar to that of the previous temporary exhibition. As with any exhibition, he gave special consideration to the color and graphics of the space, the mounting of objects, light levels, and measures to keep objects safe.

A crew of UT students was brought in to assist Weddig and fellow museum staff member Adriane Tafoya during the final two weeks as they completed the installation.

After many months of preparation, it “comes together very quickly once the objects are in,” Weddig said.

Northwest Coast Art: A Community of Tradition will be on display until March 4, 2018.


Catherine Shteynberg (865-974-6921,

Christopher Weddig ( )

Lindsey Owen ( )