Painting V

Here are several thousands worth of words in picture form from our last, thankfully, painting day in the main rooms until touch-ups before opening! We still need 2 more coats in the theatre.

Masking went well, despite the numerous "ribs" along the asbestos concrete walls. There was no dripping, and only very little overage, which will be easily touched up closer to the end of the "space preparation" phase of the project.

No complex masking/painting job should be undertaken without a good level, square, wide painter's tape and quality paint and brushes. Also, invest in small rollers to get the job done as they produce cleaner results with no brush strokes.

Our "falling wall" at the end of the exhibition before entering the theater.


Cases I

Every exhibition will require cases to safely house museum artifacts on display. Cases not only provide physical protection from vibration, physical force, handling and theft, but also provide a buffer for temperature and R.H. (relative humidity) during swings in the display environment. For and excellent resource on everything exhibit case, you should look up the "Exhibit Conservation Guidelines: Incorporating Conservation Into Exhibit Planning, Design and Production" by Toby Raphael at the National Parks Service.

We were lucky enough to obtain several professional grade cases second hand from the Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation via the Diefenbunker. Once every few years, larger institutions will sell-off or dispose of old cases which are perfectly fine for exhibits on a budget. Take advantage.

In the coming months, we will be discussing case modifications including: construction, painting, lining/sealing and mounts. Keep checking back.


Painting IV

After we finished the second coat of grey, we were finally able to take most of the tape off (good thing because this was our 8th day on 8 day tape.) It was nice to get a good sense of what the finished rooms will look like. We have one more day of painting to do: the black stripe on top of the grey and around the "watchtower", and 2 more coats of red in the theatre. Before we open we will do a round of touch-ups and and some stenciled lettering where appropriate (the stencil above the doorway which is now uncovered is original from the Diefenbunker.)

Onto our last colour for walls "Red Carriage". The theatre will remain very dark, possibly lit only by an LCD screen. The broken grey going into the theatre room will hopefully look sharper once it is masked off and contoured in black, otherwise it may need to be re-designed, or supplemented with other graphics.

Painting III

After the 2nd coat of Brown Sugar, we cut-in and applied the first coat of good old "Durability" grey. The dividing line was traced with pencil and the help of a long level 40" from the floor. A Black stripe will eventually cover where the brown and grey meet so masking was not necesary. We just eyeballed it with a brush and were careful with the rollers.

After we found the first coat of cut-ins somewhat tedious with a brush, we bought some 4" rollers and it made the job much easier and cleaner. Small Rollers can easily cover unusually curved surfaces like the top of this pillar.

We were really pleased once this corner pillar started to look more and more like a Berlin watchtower. Happy to take advantage of the architectural oddities found in the Diefenbunker.


Traffic Flow

Our original exhibit was designed for installation within one large open space. Drastic redesign was needed in order for it to make sense in the space the Diefenbunker Museum had chosen. The concept of a divided exhibit, East & West with a Wall interactive dividing them had to be scrapped. One of the biggest factors in shaping the current exhibit layout was Traffic Flow.

The biggest issue with the space represented above is the single entry/exit point into the 4 rooms. We decided to change the story of the exhibit to a chronological one. This means that once a visitor reaches the end of the exhibit they will have to backtrack through the rooms they have just seen. Less than ideal. For this reason we wanted to end the exhibit with bang. In this case, a private theatre with interactive video, a bench, and headphones.

Guessing the movements of visitors is not always possible, but we have tried to control them somewhat with strategic positioning of display cases and eye-catchers (video, large photographs, models.) One potential problem may be with creating bottlenecks and limiting access to and from each room during periods of high traffic. With this in mind we refrained from putting display cases against certain walls, particularly the East wall in the central room, to accommodate those exiting.

Working relationships and sources.

Develop your contacts! Exhibitions require historic photographs, videos, graphics etc. to present the topic in ways that words cannot do. Copyrights require large sums of money so any contacts that you can make along the way will greatly increase your chances of excellence. Contacts are also great for artifact acquisition/loans, material discounts and outsourcing.


With a few well placed calls,
one can begin a working

relationship that can provide
many excellent sources for images.

Some possible sources are:
- Local museum personnel
- Instructors/professors

- Historians
- Embassies
- International Museums

If you are looking for sources of digital video, you can try broadcasters, but be prepared to pay up to $20/second! Instead, check out sources like Archive.org where such material can be obtained for little more than proper citation.

Take advantage of any all possible contacts to obtain materials at the best possible price. Talk to relatives/family in paint/hardware/lumber businesses, friends with scanners and printers etc. You'd be surprised how many people you know can provide help or advice of some kind.

The important thing is to get out into your local museum community and work/volunteer with other professionals. Its not what you know (well, it is to some extent), but its who you know. One leads to many and soon you will have many sources for affordable and/or free rights images, videos etc.


Title Panel

The title panel consists of a 24" x 36" colour
inkjet print, dry mounted onto white Gatorfoam* and heat laminated. The design is an amalgamation of photographic elements processed in Adobe Photoshop and merged with vector graphics which were created in Adobe Illustrator. The fonts used in the logo reflect the divided nature of Berlin during the Cold War: "Amarillo USAF", "Soviet" and "Distress" (to reflect the Berliners.) The tag line is done in "Violation" script font and positioned on the Wall to represent the voice of the civilians - whom are the focus of this exhibit.

The photograph is taken in the early 1980s from the West side of the Berlin Wall. Between the wall and the building on the other side lies the "Death Strip", a watchtower is visible in the back ground - one of the recurring elements in the exhibit.

the photograph with logo prior to Photoshop and Illustrator flourishes

*Our original choice of material to dry-mount onto was HIPS adhered to Coroplast
with contact cement, however, we found a supply of Gatorfoam which was within the budget. Gatorfoam will not require any assembly, is slightly lighter and the edges will finish cleaner than the corrugated plastic.



The objective of any museum exhibition should be to tell a story. More than that, the story must present accurate historical information to ensure quality education, public and peer respect and true facts. One must take care when preparing information for an exhibit by using a wide array of sources, including primary and secondary sources, films, books etc. Find out what both sides have to say, and read as much as you can! Start here.

The first step should be the development of a curatorial essay. This will allow the team to discover historical facts, interesting sub-themes and the like, as well as develop their interest and knowledge of the subject. This blog will not describe how to write an essay. However, writing skills are essential and will become extremely useful throughout the entire process. The curatorial essay will lead to topics for the exhibit, development of common threads and of background.

Once your essay has gone through several edits and permutations(check here for tips), you can begin developing a storyline or storyboard to start turning words on paper into tangible information via panels, cases, artifacts etc. To follow...

Maquette Making

Perhaps the most important weapon in a planner's arsenal, the maquette, or scale model, of the planned exhibition space will allow the team to test colours, graphics, layout, panel sizes and much more.

Rough mock-up of space.

Maquette- Floorplan
Obtaining blueprints of your proposed space, or taking simple measurements is the place to start.
Decide on a scale that is appropriate to your exhibit space. For example, if you have a large open space that is 40 feet long, do not use 1:10 because you maquette will be 4 feet long. You want something manageable, but that will be easy to work with and big enough to show some detail and get your point across.

Maquette- Materials
The most common materials used in maquette construction are Gatorfoam, Foam-cor, light woods (balsa) and some plastics. The best way to get started is by calculating your total wall length. Once this number is obtained, figure out your wall height and cut out continuous strips of material on a table saw so that all of your walls are exactly the same height. Of course, make sure to check your material for square.

Maquette- Construction
Use simple materials and common tools. The goal of a maquette isn't to build a full exhibit in scale, but to create a planning tool. Test colours and paint your walls. Make sure all doorways, windows, and architectural features are represented in proper scale. This will allow you to test panel sizes, layout, case sizes etc.

Maquette- Panels and Furniture
Again, the goal of a maquette is planning. Use mat board, plastic sheet, round and tubes (available at hobby stores) to make scale show cases and features to discover flow and accessibility issues. For panels, simple rectangles cut to scale will suffice, however, it does add a lot if you have some preliminary design work done, which can be printed onto scale pieces. If you want to go a little to far, you can create "gravity wedges" to hang your scale panels and move them as needed.

Painting II - Priming & First Colour

The original paint in the Governor General's quarters of the Diefenbunker. It was unfortunately masked and applied poorly. One coat of high quality primer used to cover it up.

Most of the walls consist of asbestos-concrete panels with ribbing at semi-regular intervals. The seams between panels had to be painted in prior to using the rollers. Cut-ins were also done along th
e ceiling joint and corners.

The rounded concrete support footing was left masked to be painted dark grey and as well as some of the original wall stenciling above the door.

We used a little over 1 gallon of the Pratt & Lambert "Brown-Sugar"paint to cover all 3 rooms.

Finishing touches in Room 1. The area below the brown will be painted light-grey once the second coat of brown is dry and can be masked safely.

The first coat is done

Painting I - Lessons Learned

Things to Consider before beginning:

1) Mask, Mask, Mask! - The time it takes you to mask everything, the baseboards/floors, ceilings, fixtures, doors, etc. will be saved many times over once you begin painting. While you are brushing or rolling you do not want to be concentrating on avoiding getting paint on surfaces, you should be concentrating on applying an even and seamless coat. Buy a lot of extra tape.

2) The width of your masking tape - Use wider stuff for ceiling masking and you can use your roller all the way to the top.

3) Masking tape "Days" - The number of days your tape is guaranteed to not get too sticky and remove some of the covered surface usually 7-8 days.

4) Paint & Primer Quality - In a museum environment it is essential to use low V.O.C acrylic paint. We chose high quality 100% acrylic Pratt & Lambert paints. High quality paints and primers may cost more initially but their ease to work with, drying characteristics, overall look, impact on the environment, and "mileage" well outweigh the extra monetary costs.

5) Plan Your Painting Strategy - You can give your walls a more polished look if you do your "cutting-in" around the ceiling, baseboards, corners, door-frames, etc, BEFORE your first coat with the rollers. This may also save you from having to do a 2nd coat of cutting-in after you're done. We used brushes for the the cut-ins, next time we will definitely use small rollers wherever possible, this will result in a more seamless finish. If you are doing multiple colours, plan to paint from the top down.

6) Buy Quality - Spending a little more on rollers, handles, tape, even plastic rolls will make your work that much easier. Your supplies will also last longer and will help ensure that you take care of them. Throwing away cheap rollers is easy, and sometimes may be the better option as washing them out is time consuming, however, good quality rollers will hold more paint and make your work easier. This will translate into a cleaner looking finish. Also consider the impact disposable items soaked in paint will have on the environment.

The Exhibit

This exhibit explores the aspects of the Cold War which had the biggest impact on daily life in Berlin between the years 1945 and 1990. It is being constructed in 4 rooms and 150 square meters (500 square feet) of the "Diefenbunker" in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. The exhibit is planned to be opened by May 1, 2009.

The exhibit has been curated, researched, interpreted, designed, developed, and planned by Grant Vogl & Eric Espig beginning in December of 2007. The installation began on November 27, 2008.

Shown on Left: Original title panel. The dates do not reflect the actual opening of the exhibit.