Campbell House using Simple and Durable Interpretive Tools

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When I recently visited the Campbell House Museum in St. Louis, I was really impressed by their use historic images and documents throughout the tours.  It wasn’t just that they were integrating lots of different historic materials into the tours (that’s always a good practice), but they looked great.  In the entry hall, a couple 16″x20″ historic maps on the wall put the house in a historical context.  In the parlor, a stand held an assortment of historic photos on lightweight boards, which the docent passed around so that visitors could examine them more closely.

They were clearly modern so there was no confusion you were handling something historic and the docents could easily use them because they were so simple and light.  They were easy to examine because the matte surface reduced glare from the sun and lights. But what really surprised me is that they were more than ten years old—they looked brand new!  No edges were peeling and the images hadn’t been worn out or bent by the constant handling.  Even better, they were cheap to produce—about $8-10 per square foot by a local sign maker. These are so much better than laminated or framed interpretive tools I’ve seen and used elsewhere.

If you’re interested in creating these for your site:

  1. Produce the artwork digitally in Photoshop, Pixelmator, or another imaging or layout program at 150 dpi minimum and at the same size as the final product.  In Photoshop-speak, set the Resolution to 150 pixels/inch or higher in the Image Size window and be sure the Canvas Size is the same as the final product.
  2. Save the final artwork as a pdf (watch the compression levels to be sure you create a high-quality image). Check the pdf in Adobe Acrobat to be sure it rendered correctly.
  3. Take the file to your local sign maker or graphics shop (this is typically done via email or on a flash drive).  Ask for the pdf file to be printed on an opaque, self-adhesive matte vinyl film. This film is thinner than a business card, so it has to be attached to something else.  If you are permanently mounting them on boards (and your sign maker should be able to do this for you as well), you’ll want a permanent adhesive so specify 3M Scotchcal Graphic Film IJ35. If you want to attach them to a wall, you’ll want removable adhesive so specify 3M Scotchcal Graphic Film IJ40.  I typically discourage mounting signs to historic buildings because of the potential damage, even if the adhesive is “removable,” but it may be acceptable in certain situations. At the Campbell House, the signs were adhered to reproduction wall finishes.  You may want to test it first on a small unobtrusive area first.
Campbell House, St. Louis.

Campbell House, St. Louis.

By the way, if you haven’t visited the Campbell House Museum, it’s an extraordinary example of an 1880s interior.  The house doesn’t look like much from the outside, but I was stunned by the accuracy and authenticity when I walked into the parlor. Surviving furnishings, extensive interior photography, and receipts from the 1880s allowed for an incredibly accurate restoration in the 2000s based on a plan by Gail Winkler and Roger Moss.  If you’re interested in historic houses, this is a place you need to see when you’re in St. Louis.