Behind the Scenes


"Hey Mom, Isn't that Uncle Dave?"

Pitching In

In the face of ever-present budget restraints, National Air and Space Museum exhibit designers try to make use of resources already at hand, including human resources. For instance, if an employee anywhere in the building has a certain talent or ability obtained as a hobby or in a previous job, it's a sure bet he or she will be drafted into service if that skill is needed.

Employees are, of course, always happy to oblige, especially in cases where their faces will be immortalized for decades to come.

An Employee Gets Plastered, so to Speak

For the America by Air gallery, Museum security officer Darryl King spent a day at the Smithsonian's Office of Exhibits Central, where he had his face, hands, and ears cast in plaster for a 3-D figure.

Darryl's three dimensional plaster figure will become a Transportation Security Administration officer inspecting a suitcase. It will be situated under the 747 nose, near the family group photos featured in this article.

Taking a mold is a multi-step process. The face or other body part is covered in a flexible material called moulage that captures great detail. This is usually applied with a brush. Then a technician places plaster bandages over the moulage to make the mold rigid. The mold is then carefully removed, and plaster is poured into the mold to make the positive face casting.

Plater mix used for making casts
Plaster is applied to face to make a mold of the face
Plaster casts of the ears are taken separately

Using the plaster face cast as the starting point, the rest of the head is sculpted around it using clay. Once this is finished the whole head is molded and cast in the final material (in this case it is a durable resin), and the finished head is then attached to the body.

Close-up of officer King's casting

Here are the latest pictures of Darryl King's form. He is shown unfinished with one coat of paint.

Other employees have gone through the plastering process as well. Blake Reid and Tim Grove posed as 1920s airmail pilots looking at a route map; Rob Wooten is becoming a 1930s travel agent; and Natalie Gallelli, the craftsperson who made the figures, modeled for a 1940s stewardess with a tray of delicious food.

Unpainted full casting of officer King

Say "Cheese"

Numerous other employees and their children posed as "typical" travelers to represent scenes for "Then" and "Now" comparisons of commercial travel.

Then and Now Employees

Museum staff pose as 1960s-era travelers

In this photo (left), chief of exhibit design Beatrice Mowry and geographer Andrew Johnston are posing as 1960s-era travelers. Exhibit designer Jennifer Carlton's son, Henry Polk, and archivist Melissa Keiser's daughter, Amanda, are portraying their children.

Here is the same group magically transformed into present-day travelers (right).

Museum staff as present day travelers


More employees-turned-models

  Skycap assistance


Security screening  

Modern traveler using an eticket machine


Exhibit designer Rebekah Brockway is assisted curbside by a skycap.


Demonstrating the relatively recent addition of strict security measures at airports, curator Bob van der Linden watches as his daughter Rachel's shoes are checked by a security agent.


In this photo, writer David Romanowski represents the quintessential 21st century teched-out multi-tasking traveler by talking on the cell phone and using an e-ticket machine at the same time.


Behind The Scenes