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The work of the Exhibitions Department

The first temporary exhibition at the Australian Museum was a display of objects destined for the Paris Exposition – set up to‘display the productions of the Colony prior to the transmission of them to Paris’. The exhibition opened on 14th November 1854 and was divided into four components: Mineral Products, Animal Products, Vegetable Products, Arts and Manufacture.

Since then, temporary exhibitions have been a continuous feature of the Museum. Many of the exhibitions have been displays of natural history or anthropological specimens, but after 1970 the Museum broadened its focus to include exhibitions featuring the NASA Moon Landing, American Glass Sculpture and Body Art, among many others.

Initially, permanent exhibitions at the Museum were displayed in large glass cases, but in the 1920s less formal arrangements became the norm and displays often took the form of dioramas, including the Lord Howe Island diorama which can be seen in the Skeleton Gallery. Glass cases are still used to display small, fragile or particularly rare or precious exhibits but the modern versions include more information than those of the 1800s, and more robust exhibits are not enclosed in glass at all.

The history of the Department

The Australian Museum has always valued its preparation staff and from 1859 the Annual Report included a section detailing their work. The first female member of the Museum staff was the taxidermist Jane Tost, who was employed at the Museum from 1864 until 1869 when her husband Charles, also employed as a taxidermist at the Museum, fell out with Gerald Krefft who was the Curator of the time.

From 1928 Preparatorial Staff were listed as a group in the Annual Report and by 1940 included both Taxidermists and Articulators. In 1941 this group became the Department of Preparation.

During the early 1950’s the layout of exhibits began to reflect the influence of designers as well as that of Museum scientists, and in 1956 the new Department of Art and Design was formed.

In the interests of efficiency and cooperation the Department of Preparation and the Department of Art and Design were amalgamated into one department called Exhibitions in May 1959. The new Exhibitions Department included a new position called Photographic and Visual Aids Officer, however within a year this position had separated from the department and subsequently became a completely independent section.

Artificers, sometimes known as Mechanics, were included in the staff lists from the 1860s but disappeared from the Annual Reports in the 1930s, only to reappear in 1957 as a separate section. In 1973 the Exhibitions Department was further expanded to include the Artificers’ Section.

The 1980's brought increasing public awareness of the unique educational role of museums. Supported by academic studies exhibitions became a more prominent part of the museums mission. Renewal of existing galleries and a topical program of temporary exhibitions became a priority.

A new project management process was introduced in 1982 using multi-disciplinary teams for their execution and evaluation. Corporate sponsorship along with increased government support underpinned an unprecedented program of permanent and temporary programs many of which toured to both local and overseas institutions.

Exhibitions became part of Public Programs in 2005, and part of Public Engagement & Culture Division in 2013. At that time the area became known as Program Delivery, Production & Design, but whatever its name it will continue to stage exciting exhibitions such as the Alexander the Great exhibition which opened in November 2012, to create new permanent exhibitions such as the Dinosaur and Surviving Australia exhibits that were opened in 2008 and to maintain perennially popular exhibitions such as Search and Discover.

Departmental Timeline

1860s Adam Becker, Jane Tost & Charles Tost are employed as Taxidermists

1860 Henry Barnes is Articulator, Modeller and Photographer

1866 Robert Barnes is Artificer

1869 John A. Thorpe is Taxidermist

1897 Henry Barnes Jnr. takes over as Articulator on the retirement of his father

1906 Benton Lucas takes over as Artificer, a promotion from his position as Carpenter & Smith

1907 Robert Grant takes over as Taxidermist from John A. Thorpe

1913 George C. (Chas) Clutton promoted to position of Articulator

1918 Henry S. Grant becomes Taxidermist when Robert Grant retires

1920 T. A. Henson becomes Artificer, subsequently known as a Mechanic

1941 T. Hodge-Smith is in charge of Preparators

1945 George C Clutton takes over Preparations from T. Hodge-Smith

1948 Joseph Kingsley takes over the Preparation group

1956 Howard Hughes becomes head of Preparation Department

Department of Art and Design created with John Beeman as head of department

1957 Artificers listed as a separate group in the Annual Report, with J. P. Baldie in charge

1959 Exhibitions Department created with John Beeman as head of department; it is comprised of two sections:

Preparation, and Art and Design

1968 A. Carpenter takes over as head of Artificers’

1971 Brian Bertram takes over the Exhibitions Department

1973 Artificers’ section created as part of Exhibitions Department

1980 Rob Joyner becomes head of Exhibitions Department

1982 Artificers are re-classified as Preparators and Artists are reclassified as Designers

1985 Exhibitions Department becomes Exhibitions Division

2000 Exhibitions becomes part of Public Programs

2001 Glen Ferguson becomes head of Exhibitions

2005 Exhibitions and Creative Services branch is part of Public Programs and Operations Division

2013 Exhibitions becomes Program Delivery, Production & Design, a part of Public Engagement & Culture Division