What makes a watch tick? How does a sewing machine stitch? Where does an iPod get its shuffle? For those who have ever asked questions like these, Things Come Apart is a revelation.

Through extraordinary photographs, disassembled objects and fascinating videos, Things Come Apart reveals the inner workings of common, everyday possessions. Images of dozens of objects explore how things are designed and made and how technology has evolved over time. For example, the individual components of a record player, a Walkman, and an iPod illustrate the technical changes in sound reproduction over the years, and images of the parts of a mechanical and digital watch demonstrate different approaches to timepiece engineering.

As a visual investigation of design and engineering, Things Come Apart also celebrates classic examples of industrial design like the sewing machine, the mechanical pencil, and the telescope. Additionally, the exhibition explores ideas about reuse, repair, and recycling.

Things Come Apart embraces key STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) concepts and provides an ideal environment for hands-on experimentation, tinkering, and creative makerspaces. Read more >>

After photographer Todd McLellan disassembles each object, he spends hours arranging its components in the order in which they were taken apart to achieve a cohesive photograph. With the eye of an artist and the precision of a scientist, he then captures a moment in time of the components falling to the ground. Things Come Apart includes four disassembled objects permanently mounted in acrylic for display in cases to be provided by exhibitor, in addition to short videos documenting Todd's artistic process.

Things Come Apart also features three hands-on, educational Activity Kits which are aligned with Next Generation Science Standards and are generously supported by a grant from the Smithsonian Women's Committee.

Things Come Apart strikingly reveals the design and engineering behind some of our most common, useful, and prized possessions.


Exhibition specifications

Contents 39 framed photographs (~31 X 37" each)
4 disassembled objects (venues to provide cases)
Video content, text panels, labels
Hands-on, educational activity Kits
Things Come Apart
book (two copies)
Fee $9,900 per 12-week slot, plus outgoing shipping
Size 200-250 running feet
Category Science, Art
Security Moderate
Shipping Outgoing
Contacts Ed Liskey, 202.633.3142 (scheduling and content)
Tour Begins September 2016

Tour itinerary

For programing and site details, please click on host museum's name.
Opening and Closing    
09/03/2016 - 11/27/2016 Upcountry History Museum, Greenville, SC Booked
12/17/2016 - 02/19/2017 Upcountry History Museum, Greenville, SC Booked
04/01/2017 - 06/25/2017 Kansas City Public Library, Kansas City, MO Booked
07/15/2017 - 10/08/2017 Birthplace of Country Music Museum, Bristol, TN Booked
10/28/2017 - 01/21/2018 Benton County Historical Museum, Philomath, OR Booked
02/10/2018 - 05/06/2018 Orange County Regional History Center, Orlando, FL Booked
05/26/2018 - 08/19/2018   Call for Availability
09/08/2018 - 12/02/2018   Call for Availability
12/22/2018 - 03/17/2019 National Museum of Nuclear Science and History, Albuquerque, NM Booked
04/06/2019 - 06/30/2019 National Museum of Nuclear Science and History, Albuquerque, NM Booked
07/20/2019 - 10/13/2019   Call for Availability
11/02/2019 - 01/26/2020   Call for Availability
02/15/2020 - 05/10/2020   Call for Availability
05/30/2020 - 08/23/2020   Call for Availability

Educational Resources

Hands-on Activity Kits

Things Come Apart
includes these educational Activity Kits which are generously supported by the Smithsonian Women's Committee:

Visitors sketch and then build a vehicle to solve specific transportation challenges. Vehicles are made from reusable material and components are scaled to encourage collaboration, imaginative play, and real functional testing.

Shaping Space
Visitors use their imagination and the provided construction materials to find inventive ways to shape spaces that meet varying engineering and architectural challenges.

Visitors design and assemble wooden blocks, noise-making elements, and marbles to create sound pathways and music. They explore different configurations and try marbles of different sizes and materials to produce the sounds they're looking for.

Activity Kits were developed by the Smithsonian's Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation's Spark!Lab and align with Next Generation Science Standards performance expectations for Engineering, Technology, and Applications of Science (ETS1 A-C).
SWC logo

Related resources for grades 4-8 from across the Smithsonian:

How Does Design Solve Everyday Problems?
Discover how designers came up with these wild ideas and how you and your class might follow their lead. Hosted by Smithsonian experts from the Smithsonian's Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum.

Embracing the Impossible
Teaching poster and lesson plan guiding students to analyze primary documents that relate to popular responses to the airplane in the early 1900s. Guide your class through assembling the 1903 Flyer.

Robots All Around Us
Students work in design teams to research and discuss robots that exist; create a rendering of a robot they want to make in this project-based assignment from the Smithsonian's Cooper-Hewitt Museum.

Inventions at Play Activity Guide(K-4)
From the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History encourages adults to create an enriching play/inventing environment at home with hands-on, minds-on suggestions, and offers open-ended play and inventing activities for adults and children to do together.

Back to Basics
In this activity creatied by the Smithsonian's Cooper-Hewitt Museum, students will examine the unique and diverse historical artifacts that people have designed to fulfill their everyday needs in extraordinary ways.

Doghouses, Doors, and Design (K-1)
In this engaging assignment from the Smitsonian's Cooper-Hewitt Museum, students engage in active problem solving as they create a design for a doghouse. They will work in collaborative groups, explore numerical problems, and explain the strategies they used to solve design problems.

Search more Smithsonian lesson plans and project-based learning ideas.


Things Come Apart, Todd McLellan, essays by Kyle Wiens, Gever Tulley, Penny Bendall, and Dr. Joseph Chiodo. 2013, Thames & Hudson, Ltd., London. Hard cover, $29.95. ISBN 978-0-500-51676-8.


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» Exhibition Specifications

» Tour Itinerary

» Exhibition Prospectus

Educational Resources



If you like this exhibition, you might also like:

The Evolving Universe

Famers, Warriors, Builders: The Hidden Life of Ants

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Titanoboa: Monster Snake


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