Making a Museum: Creating the Three Sisters Garden Models

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By: Dana Sandoval, MoSS Exhibits Team

One my favorite parts of October’s Urban Gardening exhibit is the Three Sisters Garden. It’s a set of interactive models that show the incredible interaction between three Native American crops: corn, beans, and squash.

When planted together, each of these three plants contributes to the strength and safety of the group. My task was to construct model plants that make those contributions visible so museum visitors can discover them.

My first hurdle was to make the leaves of the squash plant prickly. I had already used felt (which I consider pretty scratchy) to make the bean’s leaves, and the squash leaves need to be noticeably scratchier, but also safe for visitors to touch and examine. Originally, I thought sandpaper would make great leaves, but I realized it would tear and wear out with time. Plus, sandpaper is expensive; it would have sunk our budget! Eventually, I hit upon an idea that worked: spray texture. Usually, it’s used to make items look like they’re made of stone, but a quick layer on my squash leaves made them bumpy without being itchy. I was ready to move on to the next challenge.

The important thing about cornstalks is that they are vertical, but without a good base, my cornstalks kept tipping over. After a long and unsuccessful brainstorm (featuring elaborate wood, PVC, and metal structures) I remembered that we already had cement model-plant bases for a previous exhibit. Even though the existing bases didn’t fit my models, they reminded me that cement makes the perfect foundation for vertical plants. Some quick-mix cement and empty ice cream buckets, as well as what I had learned from past exhibits, led to successful support stands for the corn, and a space for the last part of the exhibit- the bean.

The bean plant gave me the most trouble; I needed to show that the roots accumulate nitrogen, but roots are supposed to be hidden underground. How could I make something invisible visible? I thougGirl_UrbanGarden_STEM-Saturdayht about taking the easy way out and just telling visitors the answer. However, simply saying “You can’t see it, but the roots of this plant are special.” contradicts the MoSS’s primary goal of hands-on discovery. So I kept working until I figured it out. Now the bean roots are clearly visible, encased in clear resin so that learners can find the nitrogen stores for themselves!

 

Building this exhibit definitely had some frustrating challenges for me, but the parts that were trickiest to figure out became my favorite features in the end! Have you had any projects where you had to keep working on a problem until you figured out a solution you never expected? Tell us about it in the comments!

We would like to thank Stacey Hemeyer for taking and providing the photos for this event.

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