Shipwreck museum presents first plans for exhibit design
BY CATHERINE KOZAK
presentation was broad, lacked specifics and barely mentioned any
artifacts, but after years of waiting, an exhibit design for the
Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum is finally starting to take
Members of the museum’s design team made their
first presentation to the community Wednesday to explain the conceptual
plan for the lobby, gallery, and gift shop areas of the museum, which
is focused on the dramatic 400-year maritime history of the Outer Banks
coast. A second presentation was held Thursday in Hatteras.
is not just a history museum,” Charlotte Andrews, consulting curator
for Richmond-based Riggs Ward design team, told the small audience at
Jennette’s Pier in Nags Head. “It’s a heritage museum. This is very
much a contemporary exhibit that anyone can relate to and understand.
“But that’s not dumbing down,” she added. “We want to keep it fresh. We
want to make history matter to people.”
there’s a lot more than the estimated 1,000 shipwrecks off the coast to
interpret, she said. Not only does each wreck have its story – although
most are not known – there are stories that swirl around them --
pirates, wars, commerce, exploration, adventure. Then there are the
islanders who salvaged the wrecks, saved wreck victims, pulled bodies
from the surf, and who patrolled the waters.
To tell the
stories, to capture human elements of tragedy, courage, glory and
survival, Andrews said the team envisions dividing the exhibit into
three interconnected themes: Shore, Shoal, Sea.
providing a linear experience, bouncing from one exhibit to another,
the exhibit would be presented in a circular fashion, with a hub at the
center where visitors can orientate themselves before choosing what to
“Part of why we have this approach is so it’s not shipwreck, shipwreck,
shipwreck,” she said.
“This structure would allow us to get at different elements of the
the thematic framework will be displays that present analyses of ships,
shipwrecks and seafaring, and shore-based science. There will be
displays that tell stories of underwater archaeology, salvaging, and
David Niebuhr, a member of the team from the
Watermen’s Museum in Yorktown who is focused on education, suggested
that the museum could help link visitors to the maritime knowledge and
understanding that is part of the unique Outer Banks heritage.
“We’re trying to engage people where they are,” he said. “I go simple
more than complex. I go hands-on more than electronic.”
example, he said, people come here to fish – so demonstrate the value
of the offshore buoys that measure wind, wave heights, currents, wind
and temperature. Or how about allowing visitors the opportunity to
“pump” water out of a boat or let them “row” a lifeboat replica?
“There is a learning opportunity there,” he said. “Our motivation is to
get them to ask the next question.”
schematic design is still in the early stages, said Robert Riggs, a
partner in the design company. Some modifications that would help, he
said, would be creating an exit in the gift shop, expanding it about 15
feet into the lobby space, and opening it up with a glass wall.
change the team suggests is having a window in the conservation area to
allow artifacts to be visible from the lobby. Also, the reception area
in the lobby should be made smaller, but be brought closer to the
By creating a central hub in the main gallery, he
said, visitors will be encouraged to research information they’re
interested in about the shipwrecks and choose to go to the exhibit area
that they want to learn more about.
forms suggestive of shipwrecks would divide the exhibit space into
sections, he said, and make good use of the gallery’s high ceilings.
One image he presented showed a replica of a surfboat on top of one
exhibit, tilting on an artistic rendering of wild waves. Through the
cuts in the “waves,” light shone through a room underneath that focused
on underwater archaeology. Hands-on exhibits such as a remotely
operated vehicle controlled by a visitor could both educate and
Other design options include use of LED monitors to
show ocean waves crashing across a screen, use of large shipping crates
as display cases, and using short educational videos and informational
The exhibit will look beyond the obvious to tell
the stories, said Joseph Schwarzer, the museum’s executive director. In
interpreting the Nazi U-boat campaign during World War II, for
instance, visitors could read letters that German sailors wrote home to
their loved ones.
“Yeah, maybe they were the enemy,” he said, “but they were also human
conceived by Hatteras villagers in 1986 with the idea to have a place
to house artifacts from the remains of the just-discovered Civil
War-era Monitor, ground was broken on the $7 million museum in 1999 on
a 7-acre site at the end of Hatteras Island owned by the National Park
The museum has been opened since 2003, with changing
exhibits, and has become a popular attraction, despite being
incomplete. Last year, about 80,000 people visited.
In 2007, the museum was transferred to state ownership and joined two
other North Carolina Maritime Museums on the coast.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a museum partner,
has provided $600,000 for the exhibit design.
But the museum still needs $2.5 million for the construction and
fabrication of the exhibits.
Cooney, director of the capital projects unit for the state Department
of Cultural Resources, said that the state has not provided capital
improvements funds for state projects since 2008, and is unlikely to
But Cooney said that only the U.S.S. North
Carolina and the North Carolina Museum of Art are ranked ahead of the
“It’s high on our priority list,” he said. “As Joe said, we have a
museum. We need a permanent exhibit.”
The design package is expected to be completed by the end of the year,
on public comments, he said, the design team may present an update on
the design at another public meeting. Meanwhile, the team is
looking for more ideas and feedback from Outer Bankers on the exhibit
“I thought it was spot on,” said Danny Couch, a member of the museum’s
board of directors. “It’s definitely appealing.”
For more information on the exhibit design or the museum, go to the
website at http://www.graveyardoftheatlantic.com/