Jim Melli has been an exhibition designer at the San Diego Natural History Museum on and off since the 1970s. Learn more about his experience in the field and the contributions he is currently making to our upcoming core exhibition, Coast to Cactus in Southern California, opening January 17, 2015.
How long have you worked at theNAT?
I studied entomology at San Diego State University (SDSU), but have always loved to draw and paint. I’ve worked here on and off since 1976, wearing different hats such as exhibit preparator, freelance exhibit designer/preparator, and ultimately exhibits designer. When I left in 1980, I never thought I’d be back. But, I am here and more in love with the Museum than ever before.
What is your role in Coast to Cactus?
I delve a little into content development and what physical form things are going to take. We might decide we’re going to have a landform depicting a Torrey pine on the edge of a cliff. I will sketch what it can look like, will work with content developers and our curators about what animals and other plants live in that habitat, and will work with paleontology to make sure the geology is correct. It’s only a 15-foot piece of cliff, but does it look accurate? While we can’t replicate nature exactly, we try to create a precise sense and feel.
What is your favorite habitat and why?
The desert is my favorite place to visit and camp. It is the extremes that I love.
In the exhibition, one my favorite habitats is the crawl-through mud core. Most people look at a mud flat and think it’s just mud, but the mud is actually packed with bizarre life forms like worms, fiddler crabs, clams, snails, and fish with strange survival strategies. We have changed scale to make these critters bigger than life, and children can crawl through wormholes in the mud to explore its wonders.
I’m also excited about the fact we’re incorporating live animals into the exhibitions, something for which I have always been an advocate. It offers people a chance to look at an animal they haven’t seen up close before.