Medals for extraordinary achievement, whether that represents races won, wars fought, Eagle Scout rank or first place in the National Spelling Bee, deserve a better fate than dusty life in a dark drawer. Display them with pride in a shadow box with a photograph of the decorated warrior, in uniform or at the finish line. Plan your design before cramming stuff randomly into a frame, and be sure the backing will hold the weight of medals and pins.
Basic Shadow Box
You need a frame and a shallow box to back it up. The box for photographs and medals can be 1 to 2 inches deep -- you won't need a deeper box because the objects are flat or nearly flat and only the sculpting of a medal or a beribboned bar has any depth to it. The backing of the inside of the box should highlight the color of the ribbons and medals. You can mount photographs on mat board to make them stand out or even surround them with a paper frame or glued-on metallic ribbon frame. For heavier items, such as medals, glue a thin piece of foam or cork to the backing before covering it with velvet, linen, scrapbook paper or handmade paper. That way, you can pin the weightier items to the backboard and they won't fall off. Lighter objects and paper get fastened or glued in place with a glue gun or hook-and-loop fasteners. The glass or clear plastic front panel is optional but a guaranteed dust protector for valuable keepsakes. Use acid-free, archival quality materials to avoid damage to irreplaceable items.
Military medals are worn and displayed according to protocol, and you can use this as a way to organize a number of medals and patches. In general, the highest honors are shown at the top left of a display, in order of precedence. You can court-mount medals rather than pin them in place -- never use anything but stainless pins to prevent any rust damage to ribbons. Court-mounting is stitching the medal to the backing with invisible stitches so it won't come loose or swing if the case is moved. Pins get pinned directly to the reinforced backing -- the covered foam or cork glued to the back panel. You may want to arrange medals according to another criteria, not military precedence. Organize them by date, rank or shape; line them up parallel with an in-uniform photograph in the middle; or arrange them in inverted triangles with a triangular folded flag taking up the bottom center third of the shadow box.
The Race is WON!
Or at least finished -- and the ribbons, banners and medals are as cool as the sweaty photo of you crossing the finish line. Play around with your memorabilia -- the race number or running bib, medal, victory banner, photos, any pins from the city or the event, newspaper clippings, maybe even your lucky penny or your beat-up shoelaces. For a single out-of-town race, cover the inside of the shadow box with a city map and label the photo with the location and date. For a season of races on a track team or in a local runner's club, organize your medals and certificates by race -- glued or pinned-on grosgrain ribbon will divide a backing into grids for separate events.
Knoll Your Hardware
A shadowbox is a perfect stage for an exercise in knolling that will give order and a purist's kind of spare design to your medal collection and photographs. Knolling is the process of arranging like objects in parallel order or 90-degree angles. It results in a graphic, geometric layout that is eye-catching and very contemporary-minimalist-organized-looking. Layout all the medals and photographs to be used, placing the same-size, same-color, same-shape ones in groups with the exact same amount of space between them, each squared to the corner of the frame. Don't worry about anything but the visual order when determining placement. Knolling is a very cool look for a random collection or for a group of medals or photos of similar value.
Benna Crawford has been a journalist and New York-based writer since 1997. Her work has appeared in USA Today, the San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times, and in professional journals and trade publications. Crawford has a degree in theater, is a certified Prana Yoga instructor, and writes about fitness, performing and decorative arts, culture, sports, business and education .