Constructing exhibitions such as Voyage to the Deep is the work of preparators, or ‘preps’. They are an integral cog in the machine of traditional museums and, as the name implies, are employed to prepare objects, specimens or exhibits. Originally they included embalmers, flensers and taxidermists as well as model makers and tradespeople. The museum has four preps, all of whom have visual arts degrees. Creativity is just as essential as practical skills in a job which requires us to exercise our minds as well as our hands.
Every four months or so we install a small display in our New Acquisitions Case – to highlight recently-acquired objects or collections. Our current feature is the Sam & Lyla Landau Collection. Samuel Landau’s career began in 1936 as administrative assistant to the Secretary of Defence. He became First Assistant Secretary working with the war cabinet secretariat during World War II, travelling with several prime ministerial delegations during that time.
In the 1950s he was secretary to the ANZUS meeting in Pearl Harbor; a member of the Australian delegation to Manila; the Commonwealth Conference in London; and attended the Imperial Defence College in London in 1958. From 1963 to 1973 Landau was Secretary of the Department of the Navy. In 1974 his career in the defence system took him to Washington DC as Minister for Politico-Military Affairs at the Australian Embassy. With his wife Lyla he attended many commemorative events and was often presented with small gifts and mementos which have been donated to the museum by his family.
Putting the display together starts with the curator selecting the objects and then discussing their conservation and display needs with a conservator and designer; a preparator is brought on board to make special supports; and a showcase layout is then provided by the designer. It’s a team effort that works well.