What Became of Dr. Smith

Project: Exhibition Design and Installation Management

Client: Mississippi Museum of Art

Exhibition on view April 20–September 22, 2024

Noah Saterstrom, whose great-grandfather had been erased from family history, reveals the story he uncovered in the painting What Became of Dr. Smith (2023): optometrist Dr. Smith was hospitalized in 1925 at the Mississippi State Insane Hospital and remained there until his death in 1965. The exhibition’s title graphic draws inspiration from an eye chart and uses a font from Dr. Smith’s century-old advertisements. At the exhibition entrance, graphics arranged in an open grid serve as a metaphor for missing pieces of history. The first gallery contains a film of the artist introducing his work. Questions on the walls opposite archival materials reference the artist’s stream of consciousness while researching the mystery. Objects from family and public archives, as well as painting studies, lead visitors to the centerpiece of the exhibition—the 122-foot-long painting comprised of 183 canvases. The painting is installed in the round, extending past visitors’ peripheral vision. A centralized seating area with iPads, and QR codes that lead to commentary from the artist, allow visitors to investigate the painting’s narrative in depth. Adjacent galleries include a feedback prompt regarding mental health care in Mississippi, a Respite Gallery for those who wish for a quiet moment, and a period loom where a weaver collaborates with visitors to create a burial shroud to memorialize those who died at the Old Asylum.