collaboratively interpreting
a historic collection

This exhibition was a collaborative effort by a team of exhibition designers, educators, and community outreach specialists. We were tasked with interpreting the vast collection of early American objects at the Mercer Museum in Doylestown, PA and chose to focus on firefighting in early America. My role on the team included interpretive planning, graphic design, experience design, and project management.

big idea

Early industrial Americans tell us in their “own words” about their changing expectations of fire emergencies.



  • Families with children 5th grade+

  • Families with a member with a sensory-processing disorder (SPD)

goals (visitors will...)

  • Analyze how modern emergency response has evolved from its origins and practices in Early Industrial America

  • Connect to the stories of regular people living through fire emergencies in Early Industrial America

  • Create personal emergency preparations

  • Engage intergenerationally with members of their group

telling their own stories​

To ground the exhibition in first-person narratives, historical characters introduce each section through personal stories of fire emergencies

Life-sized 18th century-style animations provide a historical, yet whimsical, depiction of the stories


A vast collection of firefighting gear provided opportunities to create dynamic casework tableaux throughout the exhibition

object list sample


The graphics drew inspiration from 18th century newspaper headlines and illustrations, modernizing them with a palette of the bold colors often associated with firefighting


fire today

In front end evaluation, we found that there was a need for and an interest in modern fire preparedness, which led to "Preparedness Today" links throughout the exhibition

BUilding budgets

Our exhibition budget was divided among the three groups and adjusted for a budget cut halfway through the project

© 2020 Abigail Sarver-Verhey