Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
The question is blowin’ in the wind.
The winds of change are blowing across our continent. The winds are not named Mariah this time; they are named for Baby Boomers like me and my juniors. The 1945 calendar on the wallpaper of the Schowengerdt House in Warrenton marks the beginning of "my era" on the earth. "My stuff" from childhood is in museum displays now. I'm about to be a voice from the past. My theme is a phrase from a song that Bob Dylan wrote about twelve years ago:
This national wind of change will last about 15 years. People over 50 are part of it. “Empty Nesters” are past midlife now and they are reorganizing their stance in the world for greater meaning. They are entering nonprofit life with technical know-how and with attitudes about learning that represent a big step forward for museums and libraries. They want to make a difference as never before.
To give a few examples, my late wife and I were in our 50s when we made a three-year pledge to the capital campaign of our church. We were also in our 50s when we made our first thousand-dollar gift to a nonprofit other than our church.
Our involvement in the capital campaign surprised both of us. We were at dinner with two friends who had agreed to spearhead the campaign. They were not soliciting us over dinner; we were just discussing how the campaign would be broken down into levels of workers. I volunteered to be one of the workers who would solicit a set number of other parishioners. Then I started thinking in terms of what would be possible if I selected a number representing “spare cash” in the weekly flow of money through our checkbook. I picked $20 and multiplied it out over three years. I said, “Do you realize that a commitment to allocate an extra $20 a week to this cause would enable us to make a pledge of $3,000 over the three-year campaign?” Our friends were amazed at the magic of breaking down a big challenge into something doable on a weekly basis. We pledged that amount on the spot.
My point is that we had financial means in our fifties that we didn’t have before then, and we wanted to use those means for the benefit of organizations that meant the most to us. During the same period in my life I became more actively involved in developing a curriculum for a horticultural organization to which I belong, and I served as President of my garden club and as a board member of a national association of state humanities councils.
The youngest Boomers are in their fifties now, and the eldest will retire this year and next. They constitute a wind of change in the nonprofits in town. The question that’s blowing in the wind is the one we ask of the institutions our parents set up: So what? Who cares?
In the museum and library fields there is a natural tendency to think about the stewardship of objects or environments. We want to create clean, well-lit, “inviting” spaces for the public. We want to provide “access” to information of all kinds.
Ten years ago when I said to a group of library people that I supposed the inherent mission of a library was to nurture “better readers,” they recoiled. They wanted nothing to do with helping people appreciate good writing. That couldn’t be considered part of a library’s mission.
Seven years ago I said to a group of museum supporters, “How do you imagine you will use the new space you think you need to succeed? If you had twice the space, would the museum be twice as boring?” Of course, when people start to imagine a lot more space, a lot of the space is empty, so people can move around better and have a better experience. I suggested they create the space they dream about by subtracting display cases and objects in the current square footage. Pull your vision of a better future into your present; don’t wait for it. This was the beginning of my conversion to visitor-centered thinking.
Visitor-centered thinking goes well beyond creature comforts like clean carpets and a quiet, well-lit room. Those are helpful, to be sure, but they are not in the realm of “So what? Who cares?” Visitor-centered thinking is concerned with engaging and nurturing the intelligence of the visitor. That is the only source of an answer to “So what? Who cares?” That is the beating heart of an educational mission.
I see failures of stewardship everywhere I go. The maintenance problems of museums and historic homes are often crushing. People base appeals on what they suppose to be the inherent importance of the institution. Unfortunately, the mere existence of an institution does not provide an answer to “So what? Who cares?” The institution has to provide an active benefit to the population.
There is hope in that proposition. It is possible to become a community’s engine of learning even while the wallpaper peels off and the place needs better climate control. In fact, it is necessary to be an engine of learning in order to persuade the public that the institution deserves support. The most noteworthy failure of stewardship I see is the failure to stimulate the intelligence of the population. This is a failure that can be reversed much more easily than mold in the basement.
I see huge educational potential everywhere I go. Last week in Warren County I visited the historical society and led a discussion exercise in which each trustee and volunteer was asked to tell one personal story of a connection to the county’s history. Two of the trustees spoke of personal research projects using primary documents in the collection. I encouraged them to share their passion for these materials with visitors. The person telling the story of research has to be regarded these days as “part of the collection” and “part of the display.”
Two others recounted memories of growing up just after World War II. These were “Boomer” stories, but they seemed to emerge from a time warp. The town of Warrenton had been electrified in the 19th century, but one museum trustee grew up in a rural home with kerosene lanterns. Another trustee remembered that when her father expected the water in a local creek to rise, he would park his car on the opposite bank. If he needed to drive somewhere, he would disrobe at the creek, wade across with his clothes held high, and dress on the other side.
As we sat around the table comparing those memories – Boomer memories, all of them – we began to imagine that one theme of that county museum has to be about “Town and Country.” The gap between Town and Country closed in our remembered past, and “country life” became so easy that Warren County attracted new people.
The most important assets of a museum or library are the people who engage the visitor’s intelligence and help it grow. A library that does not care about more and better "reading experiences" is not in a position to answer the question that is blowing in the wind. Why should a library be less interested in promoting that than Border’s or Barnes and Noble? If you look carefully at what retailers are doing these days, you’ll see more and more “staff recommendations.” I see them on the bulletin board at Whole Foods Market, too. Retailers are “personalizing” the experience, giving big places a human face and personality. I see this as part of the new, questioning wind.
You can catch this wind. It can fill the sail of your little boat. “So what, who cares?” demands the energy of motion. It’s up to you to make that motion refreshing, not just another blast of hot air.
Monday, September 21, 2009
"They all got married and they didn't hesitate,
I am called toward retirement.
With the beginning of another school year, this lifelong teacher is feeling the rush of possibility. Every year since I began Kindergarten I have felt a surge of positive energy at the end of the Summer. That energy was intense last year. I was bursting out of the cloud of grief over San’s death in June. This year I feel it and savor it as one savors the last sip of a good bottle of wine, because this year is my last as the leader of the Missouri Humanities Council. Each opportunity to shed light, to liberate creative energy, feels like a chance to pitch for a World Series win or to write a line as good as “Fourscore and seven years ago.”
I will retire on May 15. I am not leaving because the work has grown predictable. To the contrary, in the work of discovery, nothing is predictable, nothing is done by formula. It is all done by meeting people who want to be effective, who want to work their way out of knots and pockets of discouragement, and by thinking with them about “what if?” This work is done by learning about this or that town, or this or that subject, or this or that challenge, and seeing what can be done that is uplifting, constructive of human intelligence, and constructive of relationships.
I am “called” to my retirement as I was called to music, to writing, and to teaching. I am called to create what I hope will be a happy closing section in the story of my life. San felt that death cheated her out of sharing this part of life with me. We had been thinking of how and where we might spend it, and then we were suddenly focused on negotiating for the best quality that could be wrestled away from a quickening shortage of time.
In one sense, I owe it to San to live that wished-for final chapter, and I owe that chapter to Kathy, who married me in July. Before she died, San blessed me, and whoever would become my next love and marriage. Kathy and I feel as if our departed spouses nudged us toward each other. We belong together. Our life honors the lives of Tom Wofford and Sandra Bouman, and their parents and grandparents all the way back to Adam and Eve.
I think of retirement as a lived blessing. One of life’s miracles or graces is that an imagined good is instantly transported from the future to the present, so that it is spilled liberally on our path, a libation of goodness.
My cup of goodness includes eight grandchildren. The baby girl in the picture is my youngest, Arianah Wofford. This time last year, thanks to my daughter Jennifer's marriage in 2006 to Jared Steagall, I had two teenage grandchildren. Now Kathy has brought six younger ones into our big family. Until last month, when I met Arianah and her three siblings, I had not actually held and entertained a baby in thirty-six years! It was as if no time had passed. I am called to be a grandfather! Visiting my big family is now a calling.
In my new chapter, I imagine I will join the Y, and that I will volunteer in some form of teaching capacity. I would love to be a tour guide in a fine art museum, for instance. I would love to conduct a workshop on collage and Cubism in which the song lyrics of Bob Dylan were part of the mix. I would love to lead book discussions. I would love to write a form of music criticism that I haven’t seen much of since I last wrote a bit of it 35 years ago. I think the music critic has a social function to fulfill and that the function is to expand the intelligence of the reader.
Naturally, I will sing as long as I can with the St. Louis Symphony Chorus. I will take Kathy to the opera, here, in New York, in Santa Fe, and who knows where else? She and I will develop our gardens and I will breed daylilies in the summer and dream about their beauties the rest of the time. If you want to see some of mine, just Google for Daylily Lay, and sing that name, don't just speak it.
Retirement is eight months away now. Until then, I'm going to have the time of my life in this work I love so well.
Monday, August 31, 2009
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
I think Ted Kennedy sensed the special mantle of leadership that is available to those who rise, either by force of personality or by station in life. Ted Kennedy, I think, had both of those things. He was infused with the aura of his family name and the people's sense of hope that stuck to the family name despite the human failings of individuals. He was blessed with a strong constitution, such that early in his career when he suffered a broken back in an airplane crash, he came back from it and rose above any further mention of it.
He became a champion of things his family was expected to champion, either because he personally believed in them or because he needed to appear to champion them in order to retain the devotion of the followers. There is a border zone in the human spirit between truth and pretense, or truth and feigning, in which the thing we feign one day becomes the truth of us by and by, either because we have come to believe in it, or because we have "incorporated" it, made it a part of our body and soul and identity. I'm saying that Ted Kennedy was born into a societal role and he filled that role splendidly all of his life. A former age would have termed his "performance" the Obligation of the Noblility, Noblesse Oblige.
I'm not suggesting that he was posing as "the good man." I'm suggesting that in his public life he passionately advocated what the populace hopes those of noble spirit will advocate. In his public life he upheld our hopes, those of us who wanted leadership like his or hoped for better social conditions in the ways he did.
I used to receive hate mailings at my office from a source in southwest Missouri who absolutely did not want America to have leadership like his. For that faction, Kennedy's name was synonymous with the sure destruction of the American Way.
Mourn with me, then, also, the blue finger tips of the girl Mary Jo, trapped in a small pocket of air in the sunken car that Ted Kennedy somehow escaped as it sank into a pond after he drove off a short, low bridge in 1969. He later said she had asked for a ride back to the hotel. She had told none of her five co-workers at the party that she was leaving. Her purse and hotel room key were still at the party.
Thursday, August 20, 2009
I have a step-nephew, once or twice removed, and named Wilson Oldhouser, III. He is the grandson of my stepfather-in-law, Wilson Oldhouser, who I first met in 1975. I’ll call my stepson “Bill” to avoid confusion. Bill is a lawyer in Baltimore, an hour’s drive south of York, PA, where Wilson lived most of his life. Bill had formed a lifelong bond of affection for Wilson, and vice-versa, and so, by the grace of God, Bill was in the right place, with the right maturity and legal connections, to intervene by degrees when Wilson began to lose his senses.
Wilson died in April of this year in an Alzheimer’s care facility near Bill’s home. Alzheimer’s was Wilson’s largest and possibly only fear in life. He had seen his brother Woody succumb to it. When it came upon Wilson’s own mind, it buffered him from a terrifying self-awareness. Thus, as far as I know, Wilson never spoke of losing his senses. He didn’t know they were gone. There was some god-given essence to Wilson that prevailed in social interaction even when he could not remember.
Wilson was larger-than-life to the members of the family and to many of his friends. He had a big, outgoing personality. He had a piercing baritone speaking voice and a huge smile. He loved adventure and feared no risks. As a fighter pilot in World War II, he had lived to tell the tale of more than one brush with death.
My late wife, Sandra, was his stepchild. That was an uneasy relationship for her. She had lost her father in a divorce that took her by surprise when she was fourteen. A couple of years later, her mother, Gladys, married Wilson in 1956. In 1975, before I was taken to meet Gladys and Wilson, Sandra thoroughly cautioned me about Wilson’s brash manner. I think she feared he would scare me off.
When I met him I made a brash game of our getting to know each other. I made wise cracks. I gave him goofy answers. I made him laugh. He realized that we were in for a long game of verbal delight. And so, as our relationship developed, he never once tried to throw me off balance, and I never engaged him in anger. We had become something like buddies.
During my period of grieving over Sandra’s death these past months, I didn’t keep up with Wilson’s condition. I contacted Bill in April to ask about Wilson and learned that Wilson was in failing health at the time of my note and that he had died five days later.
Bill is an excellent writer. His Christmas letters to the family are always warm and interesting. I saw that warmth and ease again this week when Bill sent me the transcript of a memorial gathering of lawyers and judges on August 7 in York, Pennsylvania. I take this transcript as a “historic artifact” because it is evidence of a vanishing form of memorial called “Minutes of Respect.” It resembles a Quaker assembly in which various people rise in turn and say something in memory of a departed friend.
At the close of the proceeding, Judge John Uhler remarks on “Minutes of Respect” as a passing institution. He speaks of the manner by which a profession memorializes its members and considers whole people and whole lives. He says, “There is always a debate as to the appropriateness of the continuation of these Minutes of Respect, and the debate evolves from the younger members of the Bar. They are not swelling to include themselves in observance to these Minutes, and it's a passing form of institutionalization of times gone by. I'm an advocate that these Minutes continue. How else can we memorialize the history of our members, the sheer diversity of interests that our members bring to the table and before us? And quite frankly, the Minute that has been presented by Bill has, quite frankly, given a new focus, a new picture of Wilson that I never had the opportunity to experience, and I thank him for that. We need to memorialize our history, and it's important not only for the family members but it's for the members of the Bar to recognize that there are more things to life than billable hours.”
I have made a PDF file of the Minute of Respect with Bill’s permission. I have also connected Judge Uhler’s final remark – “there are more things to life than billable hours” – to the objects I see in museums. Local museums have long served the function of “memorial station” for town residents. There is a memorial quality to donating tangible objects to a museum, so just about everyone, sooner or later, will approach the museum board with a proposed donation of objects.
It is the job and duty of the museum people to bring objects to life. Last week as I gazed at an array of rusting old farm machinery I thought, “There is so much more to life in a farming community than obsolete tools and machines.” What Judge Uhler is responding to is a compelling story. The presence of rusty equipment is not the museum’s problem. The problem is the absence of story. That is a problem that can be solved over and over, in ways that offer a fitting memorial to the forbears and departed friends and relatives who worked on the land.
Friday, July 31, 2009
A museum colleague passed on an email report about how the Ohio Historical Society has redefined itself in response to a 42% cut in state funding in the past two years. The key information in the report is this statement:
“In direct response to what the public has said they want the Ohio Historical Society to offer, the Society will be transforming the state history museum at the Ohio Historical Center to focus on collections learning. In studies that have taken place over the past three years, the public has said they want more direct access to the collections, more opportunities for hands-on experiences and ways to explore stories of interest to them using current technology and the resources of both the museum and library.
“Plans call for public labs and workspaces in which activities that are usually carried out behind the scenes will be front and center. In addition, collections that are normally stored off-site will be brought to the facility for easy viewing. A distance learning studio, spaces for new exhibitions and technology enhancements are also among the innovations under development.
“The collections learning center will be created in phases, beginning with the removal of current exhibits, many of which are more than 20 years old. Development and implementation of the first phase is scheduled to begin in January 2010. OHS Director Bill Laidlaw was quoted as saying, "the collections-learning-center concept will help make Ohio's story personally relevant and engaging to today's audiences. We will be creating more exhibitions and programs for traveling to OHS sites, libraries, historical societies, community centers and other museums across the state. In this way, we are redefining the concept of 'state museum.' We will be a museum with a presence all over the state-not just in Columbus."
I have added boldface to the report I received. Reporter Tim Feran, in a July 24 blog for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, used the well-chosen word, “attic,” to describe the collection of the Ohio Historical Society: With 2 million objects in a wide-ranging collection, the society is known as "Ohio's Attic." That characterization is followed in the blog by a direct quote from OHS Director, Bill Laidlaw, "We have to protect the collections first. That's why we were founded. We would never sell anything to cover basic operating costs. Never have, never will. If you lose it, it's gone forever."
I gather that the state historical society is saddled with an ungainly mission. Although it has existed since 1885, it has been charged with the management of a network of local historic sites. For the past 50 years it has also been designated as the archive for the state’s three branches of government. Apparently, it serves a large number of people interested in genealogy, too. This “mission creep” is a familiar feature of historical organizations large and small. The financial difficulties of the Ohio Historical Society provide a case-in-point. The organization has to redefine its mode of operations to use much less money and have a much more compelling effect on its visitors/clients/users.
I can see in the quotations above a certain tension between an “object-centered” approach to museum management and a “learner-centered” approach. The fault of most mission statements in the nonprofit world is that they fail to talk about the nature of the transformation they cause within the served population. In the field of education, the key result of an organization’s activity is “enlarged intelligence.” Stewardship of intelligence is the primary function of education, and yet you won’t find it in the statement about “protecting the collections first.” You won’t find it in most museum mission statements.
Of course, anyone in Bill Laidlaw’s position must say that the collection won’t be auctioned off. There are a lot of people who believe that collecting and preserving objects is a complete and sufficient statement of the mission. "Collect and preserve;" it rings in my ear like a lead bell, I've seen it so often. Bill Laidlaw has to honor a swath of influential people who have not yet thought beyond "collect and preserve." Everyone in his position has to say what he said while doing everything in his power to enlarge the vision of what a museum’s true purpose might be.
The media want to spin the stories of big museums around the money theme. They take the easy way out. Money stories are easy. The reports talk about staff furloughs, reduced hours, etc. Laidlaw plays into the media’s chosen spin with a “protect the objects” refrain. He, or his PR person, should have played the unexpected “learner-centered” card.
If only he had spoken of a museum’s social function rather than its “collect and preserve” function, he could have made the kernel of the case for restoration of all that lost funding. Over $7 million is at stake! The money-winning function of a museum is to engage people in a richer story than they would ever devise on their own. The museum exists not for the sake of its objects, but for the sake of nurturing the intelligence of the population, no matter what the mission or the statutes say. People are not hungry for bigger and bigger attics. They do not mourn the loss of an attic, they just make another one and put it out of mind. They are hungry for meaning. In nonprofit life, money always follows meaning.
In some of the boldfaced passages above, you can see the public hunger for more interesting learning experiences in a museum. They want more hands-on experiences, more opportunities to explore stories of interest to them. But I am disheartened by what I read next. The response to the public’s desire for more engagement is to focus on the object-centered work the conservators do, to bring it “front and center.” They’re going to create a living exhibit of museum staff work!
People of good intent will differ on whether that is strategic thinking. I hope OHS reconsiders that idea. It looks to me like “see how interesting life is here in the attic?”
Thursday, June 25, 2009
Every morning from mid-June to mid-July I’m usually in the garden by 6 am with my notebook and camera. One of my creative occupations is the cross-pollinating of hybrid daylilies. I’m one of thousands of backyard hobbyists or business people who raise anywhere from 50 seedlings a year to mind-numbing numbers exceeding twenty thousand. I’m on the low end of the spectrum. I raise about two thousand a year.
There is luck, whimsy, and disciplined thought in this occupation, as there is in writing poetry or moderating a workshop with museum volunteers. The triumphs are all the sweeter when they are unpredicted, when they come seemingly out of nowhere or from the grace of God. A good paragraph feels that way, or a bon mot when trying to convey a vision.
This morning I stood in the garden looking in awe at a dozen or so plants from a single pod of seeds gathered three summers ago. Every plant from this cross grows in a healthy way and has blemish-free foliage. That’s the ticket! Yet the flowers on each plant have their own style of opening in the morning, which surprises me, and their own coloration, which does not surprise me. It does not surprise me that the best flower in this cross (above) is borne on the plant that seems inclined to produce the lowest number of buds, and that the best bud-producers in the cross are producing ho-hum flowers.
If things had gone otherwise, I wouldn’t be writing this reflection today; I’d be thinking of how I could conceal the “perfect daylily” long enough to increase it for the massive influx of orders at Daylily Lay, a garden whose name is sung, not spoken.
At lunch today with a delightful PR professional whose last name in Dutch means, “from Lion,” and whose hair is blonde but not leonine, I said “A humanities council helps people make life more interesting.” It’s as simple as that. Those classes we took in Literature or History or Archaeology or Comparative Religion or Baroque Art had a common focus on the production of meaning in human experience. They also had a common result of cultivating a habit of mind appropriate to the subject. In other words, those classes not only opened up a slice of the world to us, they helped us learn to think better, more widely, deeper. We learned to ask more and better questions of the world around us. We learned to appreciate our place on the long highway of human experience.
When I listen to a recording of a Schubert piano piece, I enter another world and live in the ebb and flow of musical ideas that make more sense to me because of some instruction I had a long time ago. A professor taught me how to listen. Have you ever had such a music teacher?
I studied poetry once with a man who taught me how to read, how to notice on many levels, how to savor, how to devour.
Sometimes how a story is laid out is as interesting, or more interesting, than the story itself. Kathy and I were talking the other night about the artistic choices in the screenplay of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. We were trying to imagine the F. Scott Fitzgerald story behind the movie. Neither of us had read the story. I placed a bet that the notion of a backwards-running clock was borrowed directly from Fitzgerald’s original. It seemed so “literary,” so unnecessary to the film. Yesterday I found the story online and read the first page or two, finding no mention of a clock. There might be a clock in there, but I don’t intend to read further. It’s low priority now. What was great was that Kathy and I could have that interesting discussion because of how we’d been schooled to think by our teachers.
A humanities council helps local people and institutions carry out activities that make life more interesting – in families, school classrooms, libraries, historic houses, museums, community centers. My colleagues and I are teachers and guides. We facilitate action that constructs a better family, school, library, museum, town, county, country, and world.
The Greek term for daylily is hemerocallis, which I’m told means “beauty for a day.” That gorgeous rose pink daylily may prove to be a phantom of experience. The toothy white edge may be an effect of a prolonged heat wave and high humidity. When the weather cools off, the next flowers may be merely gorgeous pink, and the white edge will be wire-thin or not there at all, like the present flourishing of homo sapiens during a long ice age that appears to be on the wane.
I learned some interesting things about ice in a rented BBC documentary on the earth last weekend. It provided a very long view of earth history, such that the human experience could be seen intimately connected to the history of ice and atmosphere. How strange to feel that the past and future I imagine, as well as the present I live, are all related to something, some energy, much larger than all of us put together. I have certainly felt that way in connection with spiritual ideas, but not before in connection with what might be called natural history.
Oh, how I came to love her very nature!
I feel intimately connected these days with Schubert and Bach, Handel and Verdi. The molecules of my dear late San are intermixed with theirs and with mine, too, and mine are intermixed with Kathy Wofford, who I'll marry on July 19 in a circle of friends near my daylily garden, far from the collapsing glaciers, but not far from the thought of them.
Friday, May 22, 2009
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
An adult chorus is a complex organism. We get an idea of each other as musicians, primarily. Robbie's a really fine, high baritone. He does meticulous prep, sits in a way that looks totally engaged in the task, and is rock solid reliable. (This has been a banner year for baritones. Ringers to the right of me, ringers to the left of me, ringers in front of me, less than six hundred.) We're the opposite of the Light Brigade. We charge toward success, won't settle for adequate. We're a band o' brothers, we happy few.
It turns out that last night I asked Robbie what he's reading, and he said he's reading young adult books, "fantasy writing" in the vein of the Harry Potter series. It turns out he has written reviews of over 800 of them! It turns out he also has two blogs! It turns out he is not only a voracious reader but a massively productive writer.
Some of my most interesting stories began with a small question so a musician. "What's your day job," I said one time and found a common interest with a future corporate sponsor of the READ from the START program of the Missouri Humanities Council. Like a church, you join a chorus for the aesthetic pleasures, and then you become part of a community of distinct personalities, hopes, breakthroughs, and sadnesses.
Robbie's book reviews are at Muggle Net. His blog is called A Fort Made of Books. I'm going to put links to his writing on my blog. What a discovery!
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
Monday, January 26, 2009
I imagine that when I retire I will volunteer in a museum and try to make things interesting. I’m motivated in that direction by a little section of the patchwork-quilt-song-lyric, “
Stick with me, baby,
Stick with me anyhow,
Things are gonna start to get interesting
Right about now.
We’ve got to stick with our local museums, anyhow. My imaginary museum wishes there were more volunteers. It wishes that visitors were more in evidence. It wishes things were in better order, that the place looked less cluttered, better lit, cleaner, more interactive, and…there are so many ways to say this…more like the product of a lively mind. There are any number of museums that are already delightful, but it will be just my luck to retire in a place where the museum faces a world of challenge.
So I’m putting myself into the situation of the people I visit, cheer on, and admire and I’m assigning myself an imaginary retirement in their shoes, with only two months to go before the doors open again. Here is a list of resolutions about what to attempt in those two months. There is no chance I can accomplish all of these, but I’ll see what I can do to make a difference.
- I will create an interesting activity at the museum entrance, which I will clear of all distracting clutter so that the visitor’s first impression is that of being welcomed into an “introductory” space that feels “hospitable.”
The activity will involve the visitor and also launch the visit. The
Blackworld History Museumin “launches” each visit with a handout. It’s a list of things to find in the displays. The visit becomes some kind of scavenger hunt. People love having that list to focus their attention. St. Louis
The activity will be germane to the museum’s mission. If the museum is in
’s prairie region, and if there are farm implements on display, maybe I’ll create some kind of hands-on experience involving sod, soil, and plows of several designs. Much of Missouri was once tallgrass prairie. I have not yet seen a museum in Missouri that conjures up the appearance of tallgrass prairie or the special technology (a plow of specific design) that made agriculture possible. I can’t remember seeing a county museum that oriented the visitor to the interesting features of The Earth at this county’s location. Was the county a buffalo range, an ancient sea bed? Missouri
- I will look at the old photographs in the collection and gather a set of them together in a little display about “how to read a photograph.” I won’t need more than a handful of pictures. I’ll find one that is superb as a grayscale print and use it to teach about the range of tones in a fine print. (I saw one such picture in the museum in Unionville, and it was arranged with other objects so that they all made more sense of each other.) Then I’ll state a few facts about what one sees in the image and pose a question or two.
I’ll find another one that serves a purely documentary purpose.
I’ll find a third one that’s a standard business portrait in color from the 1960s or 70s and compare the portrait style from that era with the earlier era.
- I will make a little display called “Hand Made, Tailor Made, and Catalogue” for ways of obtaining clothes. (Hmm. I could add “hand-me-down” and Army to that list.) There’s a doll in the
with a label from the doll’s donor saying, “Whenever I made a dress for myself I also made one for my doll.” There are several “feed sack shirts” in the museum in Unionville. There’s a 1920s fashion catalogue in the Clay County Museum Morgan County Museumin . It belonged to one of many traveling salesmen who came through town on the railroad and stayed in the hotel that is now the museum. There’s a tailor-made suit in a small historic house in Chamois; it was made in that town for the wedding of the donor’s husband. I’ll find a few examples and pose questions about remembering home-made clothing, tailors, seamstresses, or catalogue shopping. Versailles
- I’ll organize one small display area to look like it’s lived in. I saw such an idea at the
last summer. Bates County Museum
- I’ll have an interactive military display where people can polish brass and spit-shine a black shoe, hopefully with experienced instruction. If possible, I’ll have some complete military outfits available for kids to put on and “fall out for inspection,” again with someone experienced.
- I’ll see what I can do with color in the museum. The
in West Plains has a small workbench of a local sign painter. My eye always goes to it, when I’m not wishing I could play that Porter Wagoner guitar. I’d try to do something about the skill of sign-painting or lettering people’s names on glass office doors. I’ve always wanted to know how painters of those doors really steadied their hand with the stick they use. I’ve wished for a museum that would let me try that out. Now that I’m making resolutions, maybe I can figure out how to schedule such an experience one Saturday morning a month, for the kids primarily, but also for the parents as a “benefit” for people who drop a donation in the cigar box. Harlin Museum
- I will subtract objects from the displays one at a time for as long as I can get away with it or until the entire museum looks appealing, whichever comes first. (Never underestimate the value you can add by subtracting something that competes for attention.)
- I will pull various things that are currently displayed with other things just like them into new relationships. I will try to create expectations that displays in my museum stimulate thought.
- I will think of the other volunteers whose friendship is essential to the success of our museum and I will bake cupcakes for them, or go visit them, or take them out to tea, or invite them to go visit and evaluate another interesting museum with me. I will remind myself every day of the off-season that people volunteer for positive social interaction and fulfillment of some kind. I will create positive social interaction with the other volunteers this winter. I will mend fences and build bridges and make friends.
Thursday, January 8, 2009
Monday, January 5, 2009
With the rain in Shambala
Wash away my sorrows, wash away my shame