While staplers and tape dispensers tend to occupy most desks around campus, exhibits designer John Maisano’s is filled with clay figures of mosasaurs, sketches of prehistoric creatures and sculpture molds. Being the one-man exhibits department at Texas Memorial Museum, Maisano is tasked with making the museum a place that people want to visit through designing, creating and bringing the exhibits to life.

“When someone walks into the museum, I have three seconds to grab their attention and make them go ‘Oh, what’s that?’,” Maisano said. “When you enter a space you get a feeling from it — either it is crazy fun or ‘Eww, I don’t want to be here.’ That’s the real challenge of the job.”

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Photo by Stephanie Bathurst

As the museum team member with the fine arts degree, Maisano brings the scientists’ specimens and dissertations to the public on a visual level, interpreting science through art.

“This position combines my architecture, art and theater experience,” he said. “It deals with lighting, the way people move around the space and how they encounter things. The lighting, colors and way a specimen is mounted [are] what draws
people in.”

The museum is a testament to his 11 years of work toward the goal of making science interesting and exciting. Whether it’s the larger-than-life-sized model of the rock cycle, the murals in the animal habitat display cases, the coloring book templates of dinosaurs or the entire Hall of Geology and Paleontology, Maisano has had a large impact on the public’s view of science.

“I will be given the room, the specimens, access to the scientists and curator, and have to make something pretty.”

Since he fills the role of carpenter, welder, painter and sculptor on top of actual designing, Maisano rarely has two days that look alike.

“It’s really neat — I never have any idea what’s coming down the pike on any given day,” he said. “This job entails everything from changing light bulbs to mounting specimens, to making and designing props for the needs of the education department.”

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One of Maisano’s biggest projects right now is working with the education and paleontology departments to train K-12 teachers on how to incorporate science in their classrooms through art.

“It’s challenging because we’re dealing with people who have never drawn before, at the same time as art teachers,” he said. “I’m helping teachers to get rid of the fear of art — showing people who are afraid of drawing that it’s basically just shapes and that if you mess up clay, you can just do it again.”

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