Mark Your Calendars for these events happening at HMNS 1/18-1/24

Bust out your planners, calendars, and PDAs (if you are throwback like that), it’s time to mark your calendars for the HMNS events of this week!

Last week’s featured #HMNSBlockParty creation is by Jasmine.

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Want to get your engineering handwork featured? Drop by our brand-new Block Party interactive play area and try your own hand building a gravity-defying masterpiece. Tag your photos with #HMNSBlockParty.

Extended Hours at HMNS Hermann Park on Martin Luther King Day (Monday, Jan. 18): 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. 

Behind-the-Scenes Tour – La Virgen de Guadalupe
Tuesday, Jan. 19

6:00 p.m.
Going back to the 8th century in a struggle between Muslim and Spanish naval forces and on to the appearance in the Aztec capital in the 15th century, Virgin of Guadalupe was adopted as a symbol in Europe and the New World during times of friction. Through the artwork and artifacts on display, your guide will trace the increasing role the Virgin of Guadalupe played in society.

Behind-the-Scenes Tour – Out of the Amazon
Tuesday, Jan. 19

6:00 p.m.
HMNS has an unparalleled Amazonia collection which is made up of rare artifacts from thirteen tribes. Priceless pieces of the collection-ceremonial objects, masks, body costumes, headdresses and more-are on display in the special exhibition Out of the Amazon. Tour this temporary exhibition with HMNS master docents who share stories of everyday life among rapidly disappearing indigenous groups.

Class – Growing Fruit Trees in a Small Space
Wednesday, Jan. 20
10:00 a.m.
Homeowners with the smallest urban lots can grow fruitful gardens of increased variety and beauty. Instructor Angela Chandler will teach the techniques known as high density orchard, which enables the urban gardener to quadruple the variety of fruit they can grow without buying a single square foot of land. Maintenance is made easier by employing simple changes in the way home orchard management is approached. Practical and decorative techniques are will also be included. Fruits covered include stone and pome fruits, as well as tropical fruits, small bush fruits and berries.

Lecture – Terrorism, ISIS and Emerging Threats – Evolution of Terrorism Strategy by Brit Featherston
Wednesday, Jan. 20
6:30 p.m.
Most of the post 9/11 terrorism plots are foiled by the observant public and by an attentive local, state and federal police response. Hear how law enforcement tools have worked to protect us, and how enforcement techniques must evolve to meet the dynamic threats we will face.
Former police officer, Brit Featherston, J.D. is First Assistant US Attorney and Chief of National Security Division of the Eastern District of Texas US Attorney’s Office. He works with local, state and national law enforcement officials, emergency first responders and officials, and others on protection of our homeland.

 

Behind the Scenes: HMNS Birthday Planning

by Karen Whitley

People always tell me that I have the best job and that I must love it. My response each time? “Absolutely!”

Planning and hosting birthday parties at such an awesome venue as the Houston Museum of Natural Science, it doesn’t get much better than that. Of course, people think all we do all day is party, and while there’s definitely some celebrating going on, a lot more happens behind the scenes to make sure each and every party runs smoothly. It’s not all cake and presents.

Dinosuar centerpiece (Bollingmo Party)

Each year, the HMNS is host to hundreds of birthday parties. In 2015 alone we hosted more than 520 parties. That’s an average of 10 parties per week! We have even hosted up to 20 parties in one weekend! Phew, that’s exhausting just to think about. As exciting as parties are, though, it all begins in the office.

Every week we field dozens of phone calls and emails from parents interested in hosting a party with us. From parents requesting date availability and more information about our parties, to parents who are already booked and want to discuss their party, we are happy to talk to you and assist in any way we can. I have once even measured every single counter, table, wall angle, and even the freezer space for a parent.

Bunch of Balloons

Once a parent is ready to book, we try to keep the process as smooth as possible for them while we deal with the various paperwork. Who wouldn’t love a little less paperwork? After a parent is sent the confirmation email, they are all set to go. We will even send a reminder email closer to the date. Yes, parents have forgotten that they have their child’s birthday coming up, but no worries, we’ve got you covered! If you’re looking to add one of the entertainment options we have, we will facilitate the whole thing for you as well. My desk is a mess so yours can stay clean. That’s the story I’m sticking with.

Booking a party is just the beginning. Since every party comes complete with tablecloths and a craft, we have to make sure we have enough supplies on hand. That involves a word most adults wish to avoid — inventory! Did you know that for our dig pit craft where kids get to dig up small plaster dinosaur teeth, we make those teeth in house? Each and every tooth is made by one of our party coordinators during the week. We can use up to 200 teeth each weekend!

Dig pit

So how many supplies does it take to run more than 500 parties a year? Here’s just a few numbers:

  1. 10,000 coloring pages. We used to print these in house too, but yay for outsourcing!
  2. Over 4,000 signs pointing guests the way to their party room. Yes, they do exist!
  3. 3,000 tablecloths. If you lay the tablecloths end to end, we use approximately 26,000 feet! That’s almost five miles, or 88 football field lengths for the football fanatics. Me, I prefer baseball. Go ‘Stros!
  4. Over 2,500 Ziploc bags, popsicle sticks, and plastic cups. Add a little glue, paint, and borax and what do you get? Slime!
  5. 1,700 plaster dinosaur teeth. Emphasis on plaster.
  6. 860 butterflies released into the Butterfly Center rainforest.
  7. 800 Pounds of sand. Did I mention the arm work-outs we get?

Birthday Card

When the day of the party arrives, we make sure we get here early. I once remember what is was like to sleep in on a Saturday. Fond memories. The signs go up, the tables are set, the crafts are prepared, and then we wait for the call from arriving parents. Once we get the call, the party coordinator will take a cart to the garage to pick them up. I think we can all agree that we enjoy the cooler months. We load up the parent’s supplies on the cart and take them to the room. Let me say to all the parents, you sure know how to pack an ice chest to *cough* maximum capacity.

After that comes the easy part. Two hours of a coordinator running the party, keeping the attention of about 20 children, giving a dinosaur tour that three-year-olds can understand, wrangling all the children and their parents through our exhibit halls and making sure we have no wanderers, and even getting to practice knife-cutting skills on uniquely shaped cakes.

Mary Tour

Do you know how many shapes a cake can come in? My personal favorite was the giant pyramid where all the kids wanted the flavor on the bottom of the pyramid. Who knew we would learn about structural engineering as well. Once the party ends and we help escort the party parents back to their car, we generally have about 15 minutes to clean and reset the room to do it all over again!

Shery Zachariah 4

In all actuality, hosting birthday parties can be a lot of work on our end, but we wouldn’t change a thing. The joy we get in being able to be a part of a child’s special day, it really is priceless. We have even had the chance to watch some children grow up in the museum, as they come back each year to have their party with us. Seeing a child light up as we walk though 100-million-year-old dinosaur fossils, a living rainforest, ancient mummies, and more… that’s what makes this job so amazing. Well, that and the cake.

Editor’s Note: Karen is Birthday Party Manager for the HMNS Marketing department.

Mark Your Calendars for these events happening at HMNS 1/4-1/10

Bust out your planners, calendars, and PDAs (if you are throwback like that), it’s time to mark your calendars for the HMNS events of this week!

VOG_600

Behind the Scenes Tour – La Virgen de Guadalupe
Tuesday, Jan. 5
6:00 p.m.
Going back to the 8th century in a struggle between Muslim and Spanish naval forces and on to the appearance in the Aztec capital in the 15th century, Virgin of Guadalupe was adopted as a symbol in Europe and the New World during times of friction. Through the artwork and artifacts on display, your guide will trace the increasing role the Virgin of Guadalupe played in society.

Behind the Scenes Tour – Spies, Traitors, Saboteurs
Tuesday, Jan. 5
6:00 p.m.
Enemies within U.S. borders have been a threat since the birth of our nation. On this tour of “Spies, Traitors, Saboteurs: Fear and Freedom in America” you will learn of various acts of terrorism throughout US history and the government and public responded, as well as, examines the challenge of securing the nation without compromising the civil liberties upon which it was founded.

Family Space Day
Saturday, Jan. 9
George Observatory 
Blast into outer space on a simulated space flight to the Moon! The Expedition Learning Center at the George Observatory will be open for individual children and adults to sign up for missions. No danger is involved! Astronauts are assigned jobs aboard the Space Station Observer and work together as they solve problems and have fun. Volunteers who work at NASA will run the missions and visit with the participants. Don’t miss this special opportunity to participate in real astronaut training!

 

Being Natural: Kevin Henderson

Kevin Henderson stumbled onto exhibits design by accident and couldn’t be happier about it.

Coming out of the University of Houston’s Architecture program, Henderson was called in to help with an exhibition. He always liked sketching and the Arts, and while he was interested in product and industrial design, UH didn’t have a program in that at the time. After graduation, he rediscovered the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

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The fast turnaround of exhibit projects appealed to Henderson straight away.

“There is an almost immediate sense of gratification when you draw something or design something [as an exhibits designer]. It becomes a reality a lot faster than with architecture!” Henderson said. “You get the rewards so much more quickly. Sometimes I feel bad about that.”

Henderson spent two years at HMNS as a junior designer, helping out with the design of the Hall of Paleontology when it was in Glassell Hall as well as the Welch Chemistry Hall, two versions ago. From there, he moved on to a private company where he was responsible for design and construction of the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, Texas, one of the highlights of his career.

In fall 1999, Henderson returned to HMNS for good. 16 years later, he’s worked on exhibits from the world-famous Lucy’s Legacy in 2008 to La Virgen de Guadalupe: Empress of the Americas today.

Kevin3

As Henderson puts it, there are three types of special exhibitions: the kind that comes with artifacts and display cases laid out; the kind that comes with only artifacts; and the kind that is assembled and organized by the museum. It’s up to the HMNS design team to figure out how to lay out the last two.

When designing an exhibit, Henderson has to consider aesthetics such as lighting and sound as well as how to best display an artifact for its educational value. One of his favorite examples of this is a display case in the Hall of Ancient Egypt featuring the Coffin of Neskhons. This ornate sarcophagus is located at the very end of the second long hallway in the hall, and the dark walls and spotlight placement make it light up like a beacon.

kevin2

“I have to find a delicate way to allow the public to get up close to these delicate, priceless things,” Henderson said. “I find it a cool challenge to engage the visitor so that they’ll want to come see this artifact. Once they are there, I have to figure out how to let them see it without damaging it. Each exhibit has its unique challenges and that’s probably the main reason I enjoy doing what I do. It’s never the same; each project is different. These are fun puzzles to solve.”

Part of these puzzles is understanding the human mind, and Henderson has to employ psychological tactics as well when laying out the exhibit.

“I have to direct the visitor traffic flow through an exhibit. I don’t like to be heavy-handed in a gallery layout or to constrict or confine people down a set, rigid pathway,” Henderson said. “In many shows, there’s a chronological timeline to the story, so it isn’t helpful when the gallery is open. The visitor will roam freely and get lost. I need to subtly guide visitors through an exhibit so that unbeknownst to them, they’re following a story.”

La Virgen de Guadalupe: Empress of the Americas, open from Dec. 11 through early September, is an example of a special exhibit that was organized by HMNS, and Henderson played the leading role in designing the product on display on the museum’s third floor.

kevin

“We had a bit more environmental aspects in there with the different sections. You don’t want to overwhelm the objects, so you want to do just enough to hint at the feel of that area or era or culture, but the priority is the display of the objects,” Henderson said.

“There’s a reverence and respect for the original tilma and any image with the Virgin on it, so in designing that show, there had to be major consideration to treat the objects with even more reverence and respect,” Henderson added. “You notice that lighting is done in a certain way, the framing is appropriate, the music, everything contributes to a nice, soft, peaceful, quiet, meditative, respectful space.”

In the end, Henderson loves his job. He enjoys handling artifacts, working with other organizations and putting together a finished product. Most of all, he loves seeing the public’s reaction to his work.

“You walk around and see the kids running through, hearing them say, “Wow, this is so cool!” makes everything worthwhile. You feel like you’re contributing to something, opening some kids’ minds to some other topics,” Henderson said. “That’s one of my favorite things.”