Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, Santa Barbara, CA
Kym Cochran shows off the faux rock signage for  "Rare Earth" at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History
Kym highlighting the signage and its faux rock surround for the SBMNH show


An beautiful example of malachite from the Rare Earth exhibit
A beautiful specimen of malachite.

The Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History was putting on “Rare Earth” a gems and mineral show in the Fleischmann Auditorium. The specimens would be some of the most exquisite in the world so they wanted a suitable entryway. Frank Hein, the Head of Exhibits contacted The Environment Makers. 

We all agreed that a faux mine entrance was the best option. With limited time and resources, figuring out an efficient and economical system was paramount.  After much discussion, we settled on making fake rock panels that we could then attach to temporary walls made out of old doors. To create the roof, we built a lightweight, wooden frame and attached more “rock” panels to it.  

How We Made the Faux Rock Panels

Kym showing off two completed faux rock panels.
Kym shows off our work.

The key to making the panels was 2 part expanding foam, a product that Kym had used multiple times on other theming projects. We made a wooden form using 2’”x 4”s and filled the cavity about halfway up with kinetic sand. Next, we threw a matrix of colored sand and rock nodules over the entirety and stamped it with fist-sized rocks. We covered this with screwed-in, braced ram board then cut holes in the latter to allow us to pour the foam.  

The 2 part foam begins its incredible expansion within a few minutes of being mixed. We had to work rapidly.  Once the foam had cooled, we pried the new panel out of the form, dusted off the excess sand and lo, we had a rectangle of ultra-lightweight “rock” that we could easily carve as needed. Once the walls and ceiling were screwed in place, we filled and matched the joints. We had a mine entrance!

See the movie below to see the actual process of making the faux rock panels.

How we made the panels. Movie by Owen Duncan of SBMNH.

Other projects at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History:

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