Minnesota’s Split Rock Studios brings displays to life through teamwork between woodworkers and artists.
|Denali National Park and Preserve Visitor Center features realistic dioramas created by Split Rock Studios.|
When the woodworkers at Split Rock Studios go to work each day, they do not just toil in a standard woodworking shop. Although the saws and other equipment look and sound the same, the walls surrounding the workers recede and become landscapes, encompassing scorching deserts, mountainous forests and rocky sea beds deep beneath the ocean. Their world is filled with wild and exotic creatures, Native American hunters, American presidents and other politicians, plus a treasure trove of precious artifacts from throughout antiquity.
It’s not that the company has invented time-travel, but rather that the award-winning Split Rock has made a name for itself as one of the premier museum exhibit firms in the country. It takes historical and ecological information and presents it in an attractive and interactive manner for adults and children to learn from and enjoy.
Split Rock is located in Arden Hills, MN, just northwest of Minneapolis. Initially founded by museum artist Neal Deaton, the company was acquired by DisplayMasters and became known as Deaton Museum Services for a time, before splitting off on its own in 2000 and continuing to grow far beyond its origins. Named after the famous Split Rock lighthouse on Minnesota’s north shore (an early project the company worked on), Split Rock Studios is a full-service firm of 48 employees who specialize in display exhibits of any size.
“Basically, what we do is design and build interpretive exhibits for museums, nature centers and related institutions,” says company president Craig Sommerville. “We do everything from designing the exhibits to building and installation.”
Working closely with the customer throughout the entire process, the company has the ability to take ideas for a potential exhibit and turn them into reality. Split Rock’s expertise is in taking a project from start to finish, through the various stages of: planning, researching, writing, organizing, designing, estimating costs, building, fabricating, sculpting, painting, adding graphic artwork, audiovisuals and finally, installing the finished product.
The company’s work has appeared in numerous locations, including Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, the San Francisco Bay Model Visitor Center, the Bermuda Natural History Museum, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation Visitor Center in Missoula, MT, Chicago’s Field Museum and at Denali National Park in Alaska. The company has also worked on exhibits for several former presidents’ official libraries, including those for Gerald Ford, Herbert Hoover and Ronald Reagan, as well as those for other notable “wannabees” like Jefferson Davis, Bob Dole and George McGovern.
|The art department is where “wood and art come together,” according to Split Rock President Craig Sommerville.|