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Welcoming a New Era for The Story of Virginia



  • 10,500 square feet
  • 1,589 days
  • 725 objects, books, maps, and manuscripts
  • 628 light bulbs
  • 453 graphics
  • 390 custom-made object mounts
  • 16 lending institutions and individuals
  • 13 audiovisual programs
  • 29 days to go

It’s funny how things seem to snowball. Four years ago, I started having conversations with our board and staff about how we could update and expand our fifteen-year-old signature exhibition, The Story of Virginia. This eventually led to other discussions about how we might better engage our audiences, both online and onsite, and today we’re nearing the end of a $38-million Story of Virginia Campaign.

Work began on that first idea—updating The Story of Virginia exhibition—almost immediately. There were brainstorming sessions with noted historians and public focus groups followed by thousands of hours of research, object selection, conservation, design, digitization, and writing. Until about three weeks ago, I was still having a difficult time imagining how all of that effort was going to fill the vast and empty space we had prepared for the exhibition. Then the construction crews arrived, and things got exciting.

We’ve had a lot of excellent partners along the way. The VHS has been working with designers since March 2013 to create the experience. Together we developed a new Story of Virginia that features some of our most significant collections pieces, eliminates visual clutter, and helps our guests to focus on the objects and the stories they tell. The designers also helped us use objects to define spaces as opposed to walls, and the result is a much more engaging and open space. They also held our feet to the fire and encouraged us to convey our story in bite-sized blocks of text. The longest labels in the exhibition are seventy words, which makes the content so much more accessible to all viewers and, surprisingly, improves the quality of the storytelling.

On June 22, 2015, the fabricators arrived to install casework and other elements. The entire exhibition was built in their Buffalo, New York, warehouse and then shipped by truck to the VHS in pieces to be reassembled onsite. As soon as each case is complete, the mount-makers, who have actually been here since January custom building the intricate devices that will hold the objects, begin placing the objects artistically in each case.

As I write this, work is underway to turn all of that planning into a physical environment for us all to engage in, and with four weeks to go, I’m looking forward to seeing the completed Story of Virginia exhibition when we open it on August 8.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Ann L. Williams permalink
    07/10/2015 10:45 pm

    The exhibit will be exciting! I look forward to seeing it soon.


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