Thursday, May 31, 2012

Memories of the Prairie Lecture Series: Henry Varnum Poor: Commemorating 125 Years

The Dickinson County Historical Society will host its 18th Annual Memories of the Prairie lecture series beginning Saturday, June 2 at 7:00 pm at the Dickinson County Heritage Center, located at 412 S. Campbell St. in Abilene, Kansas. This lecture series will continue every Saturday night this summer through July 21.

On Saturday June 2, Ron Michael will speak about Chapman, Kansas native Henry Varnum Poor, who was one of the most recognized names in American art during the mid-1900s. This year marks the 125th anniversary of his birth, and the Birger Sandzén Memorial Gallery in Lindsborg, where Michael is curator, will feature an exhibition of Poor's work from July 8 until September 30, 2012. The exhibition will be composed of art from the Sandzén Gallery's collection and other regional institutions.

During his talk, Michael will discuss Poor's upbringing and family in Chapman along with his development as an artist. He was a noted painter, potter, writer, architect, and builder. Following his childhood spent in Chapman and Kansas City, Poor attended college at Stanford University and lived in California until 1919. He left for the East Coast that summer and the following year designed and constructed his own home and studio in New City, New York. Poor was actively involved in the national art scene, exhibiting his work and doing commissions throughout the United States. Additionally, he served as a teacher and helped found the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine.

Ron Michael has served as curator of the Birger Sandzén Memorial Gallery in Lindsborg for over 15 years. He has presented many talks on Kansas artists and has developed exhibitions from the Gallery's collection of art.

In addition to working as curator, Michael is an artist who has shown in many regional and national exhibitions and has taught art courses at Bethany College in Lindsborg.

In the spring of 2000, Michael received a Master of Fine Arts degree in Design from the University of Kansas. Prior to working at the Sandzén Gallery and attending school at KU, he was a reference librarian for the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland, California. In 1995, he received a Master’s Degree in Library Science and Information Management from Emporia State University.

Michael grew up in Denver, Colorado, and holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Art and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Radio, TV and Film from Fort Hays State University.

The Memories of the Prairie lecture series is part of the Continuing Education Program of the Dickinson County Historical Society. Admission is free, but donations are always welcome. The Dickinson County Historical Society would like to invite you to become a member to help support the programs and activities throughout the year.

For more information on this week’s program or about becoming a member of the Dickinson County Historical Society please contact the Heritage Center at 785-263-2681 or visit our website.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Guest Post: National Preservation Month

Today's post was featured in our museum's recent summer newsletter, and was written by Jeff Sheets, Director of the Dickinson County Historical Society.

The month of May is National Preservation Month and this year’s theme is “Discovering America’s Hidden Gems”. The Dickinson County Historical Society, Abilene Heritage Commission and the Heritage Homes Association would like to encourage our residents to explore the hidden gems in Dickinson County. There are many historical gems throughout the county. 

There are 31 properties, four historic districts, two bridges and one steam locomotive listed on the National Register of Historic Properties and one National Historic Landmark in Dickinson County, the C.W. Parker Carousel. In addition, the Heritage Homes Association has marked over 50 homes throughout the county. 

The Dickinson County Historical Society was founded in May 1928 for the purpose to preserve the history of the county. Since that time the historical society has continued to collect and preserve the heritage of our county. The Dickinson County Historical Society was instrumental in creating awareness of the importance of preserving the historic properties in the county. Under the guidance of the historical society a survey was conducted for the city of Abilene in 1979. Also the preservation committee of the Dickinson County Historical Society established a historic driving tour of the county and developed a historic home tour. 

From these efforts the Heritage Homes Association was created. The HHA wanted to develop an organization that would research and document historic homes that were over 50 years old. The idea of the HHA was to mark the home with a plaque that would remain with the home no matter who owned the property. Since their creation, this organization has marked over 50 homes throughout the county. The Heritage Homes Association published a book The Historic Homes of Abilene, in 1994. This organization also took over the historic homes tour and created the annual Homes for the Holidays tour that takes place the first weekend of December. The Heritage Homes Association continues to research and mark homes in Dickinson County. 

The Abilene Heritage Commission came about because of the many historic preservation efforts that were going on in Abilene started by the Dickinson County Historical Society and the Heritage Homes Association. The community saw a need to continue historic preservation and the Abilene City Commission passed an ordinance creating the Heritage Commission in 1996. Along with creating the Heritage Commission, the ordinance also allowed Abilene to become a Certified Local Government. As a Local Certified Government, the Heritage Commission entered into an agreement with the Kansas State Preservation Office to monitor local environment reviews for protecting historic properties, to educate the public on historic preservation issues, and to keep an inventory of all historic properties in the city limits of Abilene. 

The benefits of historic preservation come in many forms. The prime benefit of historical restoration is always education. It also includes both public and private benefits. Historic preservation safeguards a community's heritage, making it available to future generations for civic enjoyment and educational activities. Preservation stabilizes property values and strengthens local economies. In addition, the conservation and maintenance of historic resources and scenic areas fosters civic beauty and bolsters community pride. Finally, historic preservation has been successfully employed to improve business opportunities in many locales. 

Please take the time to discover the hidden gems throughout our county .We need to learn to enjoy our heritage. 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Guest Post: Carry Nation Comes to Enterprise

Carry Nation and Marshal Benham.
Photograph courtesy of the Dickinson
County Heritage Center.
Starting today, our blog will begin to feature guest posts on Dickinson County history and heritage every now and then.  Our first guest post is brought to you by Amy Feigley.  Amy is a member of the Dickinson County Heritage Center staff, and also works as a paraprofessional educator.  In today's post, Amy tells us the history of Carry Nation and her fateful visit to Enterprise, Kansas.

The year was 1901. Carry Nation had been making her rounds in Kansas smashing saloons. But, on the twenty-third day of January, she paid a visit to this sleepy little town, which was nestled in Dickinson County along the Smoky Hill River. At seven o'clock in the morning while most residents of this town were beginning their day, Carry Nation was plotting hers.

Mrs. Nation was brought to this town by Catherine Hoffman, who was the wife of C.B. Hoffman and mother of Mayor Emmett Hoffman. Mrs. Hoffman was, what one might say, a believer in women's rights . Once arriving in Enterprise, Mrs. Nation made her way to the Hoffman residence. While there, she remained in seclusion for several hours. At three o'clock that afternoon, Mrs. Nation, along with Mrs. Hoffman and several other women from the community, marched down main street, with her ever so famous hatchet nestled in the crook of her left arm and singing loudly 'Am I a Soldier of the Cross?"

Having been informed of Mrs. Nation's announcement, local saloon owners John Schilling and William Shook, drew their shades and locked their doors. They, along with other residents of Enterprise, waited to see what Mrs. Nation had planned next. She made her first stop at Schilling's saloon. After attempting to enter the building, she then shouted to Schilling. When a reply from Schilling was not made, she proceeded by demolishing his bar. With just a few crashing blows, she managed to "break the place up.” She smashed the mirror, the bar, knocked off decanters and bottles. Then, along with the aid of a mysterious veiled woman, drug a dozen cases of beer across the floor and smashed them one by one.

After demanding her to leave the saloon, Marshal Benham backed away as she waved her hatchet before his face. After pushing her and touching her shoulder, Marshal Benham saw nothing but pure anger in Mrs. Nation. She then lunged her hatchet at him. After all was said and done, she left with Mrs. Hoffman. After supper, she returned to downtown Enterprise, but this time had a run in with the Mrs. John Schilling, whose husband owned the other saloon in Enterprise. The two began to brawl. Mrs. Nation received cuts to her face and a deep gash over her eye. 

The next morning, she was back at it again. Not wanting to give in, she not only had plans on smashing the saloons, but also the saloon owners. The crowd gathered around as rotten eggs began flying towards Mrs. Nation's dress. Mrs. Nation's followers then proceeded to attack Mrs. Schilling and her companions, who fled down the street as fast and quickly as they could, in every direction possible. Within a few days, Mrs. Nation left for Topeka.

If you happen to drive down main street in Enterprise, make sure you stop and look at a plaque that is situated above the door of one of the bars that Carry Nation smashed. 

Information from this story courtesy of Reed Hoffman and "Carry Nation" by Herbert Asbury.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Promoting Student Learning in Museums, Part 2

In my last post, I took a look at free-choice learning and its role in museums.  In this post, I would like to focus on what museums can do to appeal to school districts and educators.

One area of importance to schools is state education standards.  We sometimes hear that schools are only teaching for the test or state standard.  While I do not think this is necessarily the case, it does show how state education standards are viewed at the utmost importance.  To appeal to schools, museums need to show that a visit will not only be educational or intellectually stimulating, but will also meet state educational standards.  Museum educators should tread cautiously here though, as they do not want to make museum tours so strict and rigid that schoolchildren lose interest in the subject matter.  A balance mus exist.  So often, individuals get into arguments over whether or not schools should teach to such specific standards.  After all, we are all very different people with different learning styles and interests.  But this fact does not negate the importance of learning information that will create a foundation to learn more specialized skills in the future.  This is what school is supposed to do for children: prepare them for the real world.

Museums also need to highlight their collections and give schoolchildren an experience they could never have in the classroom.  At the Dickinson County Heritage Center, we offer students the chance to visit a real pioneer cabin, a tipi, and a covered wagon.  These are all real tangible objects and places that allow students to experience the past in person.  We also feature hands-on objects in the museum which help students learn in a multi-sensory way.  Lastly, we typically end a school tour with a ride on the 1901 C.W. Parker Carousel.  The students are taught the history of this fantastic device, but are also treated with a ride.  These are all things that students could never experience in the classroom.

That said, museums should strive to meet on the same level of students.  Many schools have began using tablet computers with all ages of students.  There is no reason museums cannot create tours or programs for visitors to use on these devices.  For example, SCVNGR offers affordable tours that users can access on mobile devices.  This is an area I am currently researching, and hope to develop for our museum soon.  Museums can also meet students on their level in a more low-tech way.

One great way to create outreach to schools is to give in-school programs or presentations.  Since some schools may not have the budget to afford field trips, why can't museums come to them?  Our museum, as well as others, offer Traveling Trunk programs that allow teachers to borrow cases of hands-on artifacts, books, games, and other resources.  With these objects, the educator is able to give a lesson (or lessons) that will engage their students with a small piece of the museum.  Museum Educators could also benefit their institutions by giving programs in the classroom.  Like a museum visit, educators should strive to make these a unique experience, and allow students to view artifacts up close and personal in their classrooms.

Overall, museums can offer visitors unique experiences both inside and outside their institutions, but should never forget to adapt to others' needs, wants, and desires.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Promoting Student Learning in Museums, Part One

We are currently in the thick of school tour season at the Dickinson County Heritage Center, and so far, it has been a great experience meeting school kids and showing them some of our museum artifacts.  We have certainly seen the affects of the US economy this year.  In some cases, schools have decided to cut down on field trips due to transportation costs.  In other cases, schools have banded together, planned their field trips in conjunction, and traveled together on the same buses.  One teacher, whose students arrived at the museum in a charter bus, said it was cheaper for the students to travel in a rented bus, rather than one owned by the school.  She also said that a large portion of the travel costs were paid with money raised by the students.  No matter how you look at it, field trip budgets have been severely diminished across the board.

Now, I realize you may be thinking, "Well of course he is going to complain about this.  He works in a museum and wants visitors."  That is probably a valid criticism, but while I do want visitors at the Heritage Center, I more importantly want learning to occur.  In school, most students are educated via direct learning, meaning they are directed through a specific lesson or curriculum, with their teacher serving as a guide and educator.  This type of learning exists in museums as well.  As a museum educator, I get the opportunity to lead students through a museum tour.  I offer factoids, ask questions, and point out important things.  But I always do one other thing as well: I let the students explore.  The students are allowed free-reign of an area of the museum, a chance to explore, to learn something new.  Free choice learning gives visitors the chance to learn at their leisure.  We all have different experiences and interests that guide us through museums.  Just because I am interested in historic photographs does not mean the next guy will be.  That is the beauty of museums: there is something for every type of learner.  At least, there should be.  Does free choice learning occur in classrooms as well?  Undoubtedly.  But it occurs in museums to such a large degree, it becomes of paramount importance for museums to provide and promote these opportunities.

In my next post, I will focus on what museums need to do to entice school districts to support field trips for their students.  I will also provide some examples of what museums can offer the public inside and outside their physical buildings.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Memories of the Prairie Schedule for 2012

The Memories of the Prairie Lecture Series will be held Saturday evenings June 2 through July 21 at the Dickinson County Heritage Center beginning at 7:00pm.  All programs will last approximately one hour.

June 2: Life of Henry Varnum Poor; Artist from Chapman by Ron Michael
June 9: Kansas and the Civil War in American History and Memory by Brian Craig Miller (KHC)
June 16: Rose by Another Name: Life of Rose Kretsinger, Famous Quilter by Debbie Devine
June 23: Kansas through the Lens of F.M. Steel by Jim Hoy (KHC)
June 30: Kansas Opera Houses and Community Events by Jane Rhoads (KHC)
(Co-Sponsored by the Heritage Homes Association)
July 7: Lt. Frank Baldwin and the Indian Territory of 1874 by Dan Holt
July 14: Harvey Girls: It all Started in Topeka by Michaeline Chance-Reay (KHC)
(Co-Sponsored by the Abilene & Smoky Valley Railroad)
July 21: Annual Ice Cream Social with music by Alice Thomas

"KHC" designates programs offered through the Kansas Humanities Council.  This organization promotes understanding of the history, traditions, and ideas that shape our lives and build community.

For more information, please feel free to contact the Hertiage Center at 785-263-2681, or visit our website.