May
04

A few of my favorite things: Charles Noble

Smithsonian staff work countless hours in the halls of our museums and research centers, in the field, at the Zoo, in our gardens and facilities. We are privileged to spend time with some of the nation’s most cherished treasures as we go about our duties. Sometimes, these unique experiences find a special place in our own personal stories. Amy Kehs introduces Charles Noble and a few of his favorite things.

I think Charles Noble, Exhibits Specialist at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, is one of the coolest people I’ve ever met! He bikes about five miles to work every day and meeting him was like talking to an old friend. The word “zen” comes to mind when I think about Charles.

Noble smiles at the camera

Charles Noble, Exhibits Specialist at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, checking on the chrysalises in the Insect Zoo at NMNH. (Photo by Amy Kehs)

Charles started working for the Smithsonian in June 1989 as an exhibit fabricator at the Freer and Sackler Galleries. In 1995, he left FSG and joined the Exhibits Department across the Mall at the National Museum of Natural History. Since then, he has contributed to nearly every NMNH exhibit space. He is currently working on the new Deep Time exhibition in the National Fossil Hall that is set to open in 2019. Before he retires, Charles fully intends to check off the last few gallery and exhibition spaces that he has yet to work in.

“Working at the Smithsonian is amazing,” Charles says. “My favorite part of the job is getting the chance to create and use my imagination each day.” He is inspired by the Smithsonian: whether by an artifact, a building’s architecture or a garden. That inspiration is clear when he talks about his favorite things.

Charles didn’t hesitate when it came to his top three favorites at the Smithsonian. “If I could,” he says, “I would give the top honors to all of the beautiful Smithsonian Gardens, but I think everyone should visit the Moongate Garden.”

Urn viewed through circular opening of granite moon gate

The Moongate in the Enid A. Haupt Garden (Photo by Sarasays – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19995019)

The Moongate Garden, designed by architect Jean Paul Carlhian, is nestled between the Freer and Sackler Galleries and can be found down a shady path from the Parterre of the Enid A. Haupt Garden on the south side of the Smithsonian Castle. Inspired by the gardens and architecture of the Temple of Heaven in Beijing, China, the rock and water elements of the Moongate Garden, make it one of Charles’ favorites when he needs inspiration for a project or just a contemplative stroll during his lunch break on a pleasant spring day.

Charles’ second Smithsonian favorite is the woodblock print collection at the Sackler Gallery. “The woodblock prints on display at the museum are so beautiful and inspirational,” he says. “As someone who loves woodworking, I can appreciate the hard work that goes into making something like that.” The Sackler Gallery has an impressive collection of Japanese woodblock prints, including the Robert O. Muller collection, which includes more than 4,500 Japanese woodblock prints.

Woodblock print from Meiji Era

View of Tokyo’s Shin-Ohashi bridge in Rain
Kobayashi Kiyochika
Meiji era, 1876
Woodblock print; ink and color on paper
H x W (overall): 24 x 35.5 cm (9 7/16 x 14 in)
Robert O. Muller Collection
Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

When I asked Charles for a final favorite his face lit up. “Well, I am just a kid at heart and my third favorite is the Insect Zoo. Should we go see it?”

And off we went! He explained that some of his favorite projects at NMNH involve solving problems. For example, why and how were the leaf-cutter ants suddenly escaping from their exhibit in the Orkin Insect Zoo? After several attempts to seal the exhibit failed to stop the escapes, the exhibit team learned more about the insects’ habitats and behavior in the wild and realized that the ant colony had gotten too large and the ants were searching for a roomier home. The combined efforts of exhibits and education solved the mystery and by simply controlling the size of the colony, the escapes ended. Charles also loves checking on the butterflies when he is in the Insect Zoo; it’s especially exciting when he catches one emerging from its chrysalis.

“I love nature and I love to see how things form on their own in nature,” Charles says. “I love that I can just go look at the volcanic rock or the meteorite in our Gems and Minerals Hall to get inspired for a project,” said Charles. “Most art is inspired by something in nature,” he continues. It is obvious that Charles embodies this philosophy each day, on his daily bike rides, walks through the Smithsonian Gardens or simply sitting in his backyard enjoying the trees and sky with his wife. It is the very essence of Charles Noble.

Stay tuned for more favorite things from Smithsonian employees. If you have a suggestion or a favorite of your own, please let us know!


Posted: 4 May 2017
About the Author:

Amy Kehs began volunteering at the Smithsonian in 1993. She has been a Smithsonian volunteer, intern and employee and is currently a public affairs contractor, assisting units around the Smithsonian with special projects.

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