It’s like a dollhouse with a purpose — a museum in miniature, laid out on folding tables. Its foam walls are lined with printed pictures, and its floors are adorned with tiny sculptures.
The diorama allows curator Barbara Jones to plan for the grand reopening of its life-sized counterpart, the renovated Westmoreland Museum of American Art.
Jones has been working with the scale models since 2013. They are in a room on the second floor of the museum’s temporary home on Route 30.
The room’s walls are covered with dozens of colorful slips of paper, each representing a work in the museum’s collection. Jones decides which ones go into the model and which stay on the wall. The pieces she chooses will be displayed in the Greensburg museum when it reopens in October at the end of a $38 million expansion.
It’s a fun job, she said, but it’s filled with tough choices.
“Even though I’ve essentially doubled my gallery space, I’m still sitting here saying, ‘I want to put this in and I don’t have room,’ ” she said.
Jones said she is trying to tell a story with the exhibits’ layouts. The museum will guide visitors on a walk through American art history. Works positioned near each other will share a common theme, but Jones is trying to highlight contrasts. Portraits of the rich are juxtaposed with those of the poor, and pictures of city life and country life will hang together.
One particularly challenging piece is a sculpture of a soldier by Paul Wayland Bartlett. It cuts a stern and imposing figure, and Jones is worried it would subtly push visitors away from wherever it stood.
In one room, Jones is trying to guide visitors through a particular door, so she decided to place the soldier by another entryway off her intended path.
“I’m hoping he’s going to stand there and keep them back,” she said.
The small paintings that hang on the model walls were printed from digital images of the library’s collection and cut out by museum staff and interns.
Curatorial assistant Kari Garber-Hynek helped with many of the works on display in the miniature exhibits.
“It’s really kind of fun to see it start to take shape,” she said.
Scale models are a common tool for museum curators, Jones said. They allow easy planning of exhibits and provide quick reference for the people who will hang the paintings and position the sculptures.
Duncan MacDiarmid is one of those people. The Pittsburgh sculptor and art handler is responsible for moving the museum’s pieces from one place to another.
Art handlers wear many hats and do many jobs, said MacDiarmid, who built the foam museum models for Jones.
“We’re often problem solvers. If the curator isn’t sure about how to go about doing something, they’ll come to us first,” he said.
Jones must soon put the finishing touches on the model. She intends to wrap up her exhibit plans next week.
The renovated museum, which is on North Main Street, will hold its grand opening Oct. 24.
When the museum is complete, most of the models will be discarded, but Jones will keep the one of the cantilevered upper-floor gallery. That gallery will rotate exhibits every few months, so keeping the miniature version on hand will be helpful, Jones said.
“I happened to love dollhouses as a kid, so maybe it was just meant to be,” she said.
Jacob Tierney is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-6646 or [email protected].