Making Modernity: A Gallery Preview

Vintage packets of Kool-Aid drink mix. Featured in Making Modernity. Image courtesy of CHF Collections.

Vintage packets of Kool-Aid drink mix. Featured in Making Modernity. Image courtesy of CHF Collections.

Looking Toward the Future

The “permanent” cases are actually designed to allow a degree of flexibility, since chemistry is an ever-changing field. “The structures we have provided,” Ventimiglia says, “can be reassembled in the future to tell new aspects of a story or to demonstrate evolving principles.” But since CHF has thriving relationships with the Smithsonian and other loaning institutions, room has also been set aside for temporary exhibits to ensure that when visitors return to the building they’ll always find something fresh. The first temporary exhibit, Molecules That Matter, was developed in partnership with the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College and offers scientific and artistic representations of 10 organic molecules that transformed the 20th century. Future scheduled exhibits promise examinations of the chemistry of plants, the history of microscopes, and a selection of rare books. “We’re hopeful that these slightly edgier exhibits will offer spins on what the history of chemistry can be,” says McLeary, “and that together, both galleries will also function as a recruitment tool for future donations and loans. Visitors will come to think of us as the appropriate stewards for artifacts that they themselves own.”

In its ambition for the galleries and their impact, CHF has aimed high. Ultimately, Ventimiglia says, “it will become an icon in the world of science museums.” Although the exhibits have been designed for an audience with some familiarity with science, CHF’s designers and curatorial staff say they won’t be surprised should the delights within make themselves known to a larger, more general audience. “Really, these galleries will appeal to all those who are curious about the world and want to know the part which chemical sciences have played, do play, and indeed, will play in their lives,” says Anderson. “Benjamin Franklin would have thoroughly approved of this project being undertaken next door to him. In fact, I’m sure he’d be one of the first visitors when the exhibit opened.”

JoAnn Greco is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia.