A Simple Solution for Displaying Trackways

The following images are of a simple shadow box I've designed and build for displaying replica fossil trackways. This box is the second I've built and has a few minor improvements which I think work well. The first box was presented as a retirement gift for a good friend and now former museum curator (and a sly way of informing him that I'm naming the ichnospecies after him… I had the name on a specimen card), while this box is destined as a thank you for a funding donor. I should say that both boxes hold different trackways but were built in the same style (unfortunately my photos of the first box look horrible so I'm not going to post them… these images are actually scans of the box itself which seems to work well for small trackways).

The lid of the box is made from a picture frame that uses two panes of glass to hold a photo in place (I actually quite like the look; a black rectangle surrounding a floating picture). I acquired the frames from a well-known big box store. The rest of the box is simply scrap pieces of wood I had around the shop along with some hinges I picked up at a local store. Total build time was a few hours but with the proper tools that could be easily reduced.


What separates this style of shadow box from most others is the tracks depicted in the lid. Unless you study fossil footprints for a living it can be difficult to find them in an unmarked rock (or plaster cast). By marking the footprints on one of the panes of glass I get a decretive focal point to the box as well as a handy trackway map. With the first box I used a black marker but it didn't show up well so for this box I found a whiteout pen which really pops against the black. A small piece of artificially aged paper (coffee stains and oven dried) with the thank you note replace the specimen card found in the first box (I aged that one too). The two panes of glass are then put together sandwiching the marks and paper between them. Small finishing nails were used to hold the frame closed (if you are going to build one of these pre-drill every hole; the frames are made of pressed sawdust and will split).

Small hinges allow the lid to be opened so a better view of the trackway can be had. This trackway is a plaster cast which was spray painted black, then painted with an acrylic paint (grey) and water mixture and allowed to evaporate (the water forces the paint to pool in the low spots). In both boxes I stained the backing board instead of painting it black mostly because I like the look better. In the first box the trackway is attached with screws (it has a wood backing) but this trackway is just glued down with epoxy. It is important to mount the trackway in the box before drawing the footprints onto the glass so they match up when you close the lid.

Well that is my little project from the last week. I think you could use this method to build a nice display with a half skull mount; use the glass to mark the different bones with an anatomical drawing or something similar. If you have any questions or comments I'd love to hear them.

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