Museum Culture

Open Air Museums group
to meet in Madison

Living history is a big part of
educating public about the past,
these experts say

By Lela Jane Bradshaw
Contributing Writer

(March 2012) – Having spent 14 years as an historic interpreter in open air museums, Pat Cunningham has a great deal of experience challenging visitors to expand their concepts of what museums should be. Rather than presenting cold artifacts in glass cases, workers in open air museums bring historic buildings and sites to life by showcasing the artifacts in the actual environments where they would have been used and demonstrating trades common to life years ago. At these museums plows are not behind velvet ropes, but out in the fields, being pulled by oxen.

The Midwest Open-Air Museum Coordinating Council will hold its spring conference March 8-10 in downtown Madison, Ind. The theme is “Thinking Outside the Box: The Community as a Living History Site.” Session include hands-on historic preservation, tins plate work, treadle sewing machines, tintype photography, teaching with living history and more. For details, visit www.momcc.org/conferences.html. There is still availability to attend this conference, which will focus on some of Madison, Ind.’s outstanding assets.

Now Cunningham is preparing to challenge museum professionals to expand their own ideas about what constitutes an open air museum at the Midwest Open-Air Museum Coordinating Council’s spring conference in Madison. The conference is planned for March 8-10 at various locations in town.
With a theme of “Thinking Outside the Box: The Community as a Living History Site,” Cunningham and fellow organizer Walt Dubbeld are hoping to encourage participants to think about historical education in a larger context.
“We’re saying the community is a living history museum,” Cunningham notes.
Conference organizers hope to draw approximately 150 participants from across the Midwest to exchange ideas through seminars, interactive workshops and social events.
“Most of the people are professional museum people,” says Dubbeld. He expects museum directors, historic interpreters and re-enactors to attend. The organizers themselves have a strong background in historical fields, with Dubbeld having been involved in re-enactment since 1977.
Cunningham says the group was “partially founded around my kitchen table when I was living in Iowa” in 1978. This will be the first time that the conference will take place in Madison, and the organizers explain that they are taking a slightly different approach from past conferences.
Rather than selecting one specific historic site – such as the Lanier Mansion or Eleutherian College – as a base for all the events, this spring conference encourages participants to think more broadly about the idea of open air museums.
“We’re using the whole town as an historic site,” explains Dubbeld. Conference sessions will be held at different downtown sites, including the Livery Stable, Trinity United Methodist Church, and the Madison-Jefferson County Public Library. The Madison Trolley will be used to show conference goers the town. Stops are being planned at such historic sites as the Schofield House, Sullivan House, and the Schroeder Saddle Tree Factory.

Terry Wullenweber

Photo courtesy of Donna Weaver

Plaster and historic restoration
expert Terry Wullenweber is among
the Madison-area speakers who will
appear at the upcoming open
air museum conference in Madison.

Many of the conference sessions will touch on the idea of considering open air museums as part of the community rather than focusing on the sites in isolation. Mike Follin with the Ohio Historical Society will discuss ways of taking museum programs off-site and speaking directly to groups such as service clubs and senior citizen organizations. Dubbeld will discuss ways of using folk and music festivals to fundraise at historic sites.
Madison is ideally suited to get people thinking about ways that museums intersect with living communities, the organizers say. “The whole downtown is an historic landmark,” stresses Dubbeld, “It doesn’t have to be a museum, per se, to be an historic site.”
In keeping with the theme of community involvement, vendors will be open to public Thursday through Saturday with most setting up at the Feed Mill at 301 West St. History lovers are encouraged to take a step back in time as they shop for unique and historically accurate ironware, utensils or maybe even get a tintype photograph made of themselves.
Regency Revisited, owned by Dubbeld and his wife, Jan, will offer hand block printed fabrics and sewing items for those looking to craft their own projects, as well as straw hats and wool shawls for that final touch for period outfits. Cunningham will offer reproduction sheet metal items and also will provide a full service shoe repair shop, specializing in 18th and 19th Century repair work at Binzer Framing. This storefront set up will allow shoppers to speak directly with vendors and learn more about what goes into creating these products.

• For more information, visit: http://momcc.org.Vendors will be open at 301West St. from noon to 6 p.m. Thursday; 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday; and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday.

Back to March 2012 Articles.



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