When African Americans migrated from the rural south to the urban Midwest in a movement known as the Great Migration, they brought with them a rich culture and a love for a genre of music known as the Blues. Amplified: Chicago Blues is a temporary exhibit being hosted at the Chicago History Museum until August 10, 2019. The exhibition sets the scene for blues in Chicago during the 1960s, spotlighting legends like Muddy Water, Howlin Wolf, and Koko Taylor just to name a few. Originally planned to be a photo gallery featuring photographs by renowned photographer, Raeburn Flerlage, the exhibit evolved into a fully immersive and interactive learning experience. Visitors are invited to experience the blues firsthand by playing guitar, singing karaoke, writing lyrics, and even designing their own album covers. Benchmark has worked with the Chicago History Museum on other exhibits over the years and we were privileged to be included in the process of bringing this exhibit from the drawing board to the museum floor.
The first thing visitors see when they approach the exhibit is a giant wall graphic with stylized 3-D lettering that reads “Amplified Chicago Blues,” and a collage of lambda printed photographs opposite the Amplified graphic wall.
Planning, curating, designing, and building an exhibit like this is a huge undertaking. The museum’s staff had been hard at work for years before Benchmark was called in to fulfill their printing needs. Mark Ramirez, the museum’s Graphic Designer, gave us some background on the work he does and how an exhibit like this comes together.
Once a topic is chosen for an exhibit, artifacts and photographs are curated for the project. Often, they come from the Chicago History Museum’s own collection, such as Flerlage’s photographs. Museum-goers may not realize that the original photos are usually too small to be displayed in an exhibit that will be viewed by a crowd of people. The museum has its own photo lab equipped with the tech to electronically enlarge the photographs to sizes suitable for group viewing. In some cases, the lab also works to colorize black and white photographs to give visitors a better idea of what the scenes looked like “back in the day.”
After the artifacts have been chosen, Mark teams up with the museum’s curator and editor to develop designs for the graphics that will accompany each artifact. These graphics include labeling, didactic panels, wall murals, all the tricks of the trade that a top exhibit designer like Mark uses to engage and immerse people as they learn about the exhibit’s subject.
When the files are all setup, Mark sends them to Benchmark to be printed. We produce a digital proof for him to approve and then start the presses. Some of the graphics are printed directly on the substrate while others are printed on photo paper mounted to a substrate and then layered with a protective laminate. There are pros and cons to each method. Printing directly on the substrate typically saves time and money. For some displays, such as oversized murals, direct printing is the best and most cost effective way to make the graphics. Alternatively, using our Lambda printer to print graphics on photographic film (up to 50″ wide) then mounting and laminating produces a superior looking image, perfect for close viewing.
More than just photographs, the museum’s goal was to create an immersive experience that placed visitors on the streets of Chicago during the 60s. To recreate a Chicago street, the museum put together store fronts that included a barber shop and a record store filled with replica album covers printed on our 10ft Vutek printer. Mounted on the wall inside the store is a 3D map that shows the cities where migrant blues artists took up new residences as they left the South. Adorning the wall outside of the record store is self-adhesive vinyl wallcovering of a colorized photograph. This life-sized photo shows a group of young men hanging out along the street in front old, age appropriate ads.
The museum also put together a small recording studio in one of the rooms off of the street where visitors could play a real guitar. The studio included a sound board with graphics printed on Lambda flex to give the two-dimensional knobs and switches a high definition touch of realism. Inside of the recording booth were instrument cutouts printed on [substrate] for guests to hold in their hands.
While these features helped to create an immersive environment, no museum exhibit is complete without the information panels that tell the real history of the blues scene in Chicago. Placed throughout the exhibit are colorful panels with photographs and information about the musicians who gave life to the music that many still listen to today.
A great deal of work goes into producing a full-scale exhibit. From designing the exhibit and curating the artifacts, to building and printing the displays, it takes a large team thousands of hours to create such an engaging experience. While the work Benchmark does is only a small piece of the puzzle, we’re happy we could help Mark and the rest of the Chicago History Museum’s team with the project.
We went to another company to create two banner displays. We only used them once before they fell apart. Needing the displays for an event in less than 3 business days, we received outstanding service right from the start. Their staff took the time to explain different options as well as show us examples of those options. Not only were they extremely helpful, providing regular updates via email and phone, Benchmark got the job done on time. Even with the rush, Benchmark’s pricing is very reasonable and we could not be more impressed with the quality of their work and amazing customer service. We were very happy with their efforts and we will definitely go back in the future.
Just wanted to let you know how much we absolutely love our banners! They are more beautiful than we ever imagined! We are so pleased with them. They had their debut at our Hearts of Valor Ball and they were spectacular!
Thank you on behalf of the graphic designers at the Chicago History Museum for your integral part in bringing our graphics to life for the Abraham and Juárez exhibits. We couldn’t have done it with out you!
Thanks for a great job. We go through handstands/cartwheels in the process, but you guys do great work! I like doing business with you and have recommended you to several people.
Thanks for all your work on this project. I appreciate your diligence to ensure successful delivery of a quality product. Brian tells me the graphic looks terrific.
Bill, I recieved the banner here in Iowa City, and I am very happy. Excellent look, and I am excited about how lightweight and easy to erect the apparatus is. I look forward to further collaboration between CTS and Benchmark in the future.
We were looking for a cost effective way to produce full color menu boards, and Benchmark had the answer. Their Flat Bed Printer delivered great color and detail, and, because the machine prints directly to the Styrene, we had no mounting or laminating expenses. We use these boards both indoors and out, and they really look sharp. To all this, add friendly service and fast turn-around, and you get a winning recipe with Benchmark.
I know I can rely on Benchmark to get the job done on time and on budget. It’s important for me to know that Benchmark keeps up with the latest technology and equipment to benefit my quality requirements and service needs. They are definitely my best source for graphics!
Our marketing firm suggested Benchmark. As soon as I saw the display panels, I could see why. The photos, even though they were blown up to a huge size, look crisp and clear; the colors are beautiful. Benchmark sent them quickly (they rushed to get them to us in time for an upcoming show) and the response we’ve gotten is extremely positive. I now will use only Benchmark – their quality is outstanding; their prices are reasonable..and they’re nice to work with!
My experiences with Benchmark Imaging & Display have always been pleasant. I have used other companies in the past for my tradeshow booths, but Benchmark is now my first choice. The sales reps are extremely helpful and attentive, plus the quality of the product is excellent.