Monday, July 27, 2009

Changing of the Guard

Things have been quite busy here at the LHS. One thing you often don't hear about is the work of Board Members. These men and women donate their time to do a lot of the work that occurs behind the scenes. They work very hard and often go unrecognized for their efforts.

This month, we are undergoing a changing of the guard of sorts. Our Presidency has changed hands.

Karen Lubieniecki, a dedicated board member who has served as President of the Laurel Historical Society several times, resigned as of July 1. She remained in her role as President for an extra year to ensure that I would be well acclimated before she stepped down.

In the past three years as President, she has overseen many amazing changes at the LHS. Due in no small part to her own efforts, she has witnessed the completion of a strategic plan, the mounting of several exhibits, a new website, a new children's program and more. In the time that I've been here, (a little over a year), I've seen Karen work tirelessly to maintain high standards of excellence at the LHS. Karen's input into projects challenges staff members and volunteers alike to consider all sides of an issue. Her HATJATs (you'll have to ask her for an explanation) keep us thinking outside the box.

Of course, this is not a goodbye. We know Karen will still maintain a high level of involvement in the LHS. But we would like to thank and recognize her for her work as President of the LHS.
Thank you Karen!

Our incoming President is Jhanna Levin. Jhanna is a longtime Laurel Resident who has been involved with the LHS for several years. For the past couple of years, Jhanna has chaired the Gala Committee--a committee charged with organizing our annual Gala fundraiser. In her role as the Gala chair she has worked directly with volunteers, donors, and attendees to create 2 very successful events. As a member of our Public Programming Committee, she has brought a unique perspective regarding the needs of school teachers.

In her role as President, we hope that Jhanna translates these successful efforts to the larger organization. We are very much looking forward to her heightened involvement.

In conclusion, I have two tasks for you all:

If you see Jhanna, please give her a warm welcome in her new role as President of the Laurel Historical Society.

If you see Karen, please thank her for all that she has done (and will continue to do) to make the LHS a better organization.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A Community Exhibit

In planning our current exhibit, "Shake, Rattle 'n' Roll: Laurel in the 1950s", we learned something very important.

We like to have community input when planning our exhibits. Interesting, right? A local museum that wants to hear from the community? Who would have thought it possible?

In our current exhibit we could have told the story of Laurel in the 1950s based on newspapers, city minutes and other documents.

But it is a lot more fun to actually talk to people
. So that is what we did. In interviews with Laurelites who lived here in the 1950s we learned a lot about Laurel during that time period.

People gave us stories that we would otherwise never have known. People directed us to the important things about their lives that the papers neglected or didn't focus on. People helped us tell more of the story. And people gave history a personal touch.

So we're a little hooked. We're convinced that Laurel, as a community, has a lot to say about itself. In planning our next exhibit, we're going to do our best to listen to those stories.

What is our next exhibit? Well, we're very much in the planning stages but here is the big idea: we will pair a collection of photographs from the early 1900s with photographs from the early 2000s to begin a discussion about life in Laurel.

What defines community in Laurel? What has changed? What has stayed the same?

My hope is that we'll find amazing parallels between life in Laurel in 1910 and in 2010 that show how strong of a community we really are. We'll be able to have a conversation about an evolving population that has remained strong in its support of one another. Maybe we'll find this. Maybe we won't. That's the fun part of developing an exhibit--you never know!

It might be hard for us to talk to people who lived here in 1910, but we're doing our best to get a conversation going with people who are in Laurel now.

Our first step was to look for people to talk to. We could have walked down the street with a sign that said"The Laurel Museum wants to hear about your life in Laurel!", but we didn't. Instead we went to local community groups/religious organizations. We asked these groups to suggest someone who might be interested in helping us tell the story of Laurel in 2010.

We have now formed an Exhibit Advisory Committee. The group met last week and seemed VERY excited about telling the story of Laurel.

But this is not a surprise to me. I've known for a while now that community is important in Laurel. So I'm not surprised that these people took time out of their busy nights to come spend an evening at the Laurel Museum and munch on some cookies donated from the Ideal Bakery.

To them, helping to tell the story of their community is very important. A community without a story, without a history, without an identity is no community at all. These people know that. I only hope that we can help them tell their story and the story of our community in the best way possible.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Fourth of July Parade and the LHS!

My puppy is famous. He's on the cover of this week's Gazette. Check it out!

I bring this up for 2 reasons:

1) I am the proud mother of a 140lb baby.

2) His being on the Gazette made me think a little more about how things seem to work out here at the LHS.

Zinn (my puppy) is in the Gazette this week because some photographers caught his goofy smile along the parade route for the 4th of July parade. We were walking the parade route along with the Laurel Historical Society's float "The Rootbeer Float". You may not have known this information from the cover of the Gazette, because there is no mention of the LHS with his picture.

There is no mention in the newspaper that the LHS won once again the award for "Best Appearing Float". There is no mention of our diligent volunteers who worked to put together the float, pull it, and walk in the heat beside it.

The Lilienthal family worked hard to put together a fantastic float. Months ago they came to me with a work plan and sketch of what they would like to do with the float. Then they worked on the details as a family, leaving me with no work to do!

I am very happy to say that in the end, it was done perfectly! From the rootbeer floats that the girls pretended to drink to the 1950s music to the duck tape and cardboard juke box, everything was fantastic.

Of course, all of this was made possible by John and Jennie Lee Kalie who donated the use of their float bed and truck for us to use. These long term volunteers have always been ready to help out the LHS and other community organizations. We very much appreciate their help!

So what does all this have to do with Zinn? Zinn reminded me of how things normally take place at the LHS.

Whether we're putting together a wonderful exhibit, a 1950s fair, or just a short lecture, there is usually one "face" of the organization that gets all of the credit. Usually it's me. Zinn's drooly face on the front of the Gazette reminded me of how rarely volunteer work is properly recoginized. It reminded me of how little most people see or know of what goes on behind the scenes.

So thank you to all of the volunteers that helped make the 4th of July parade a success! We truly appreciate your hard work!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Invasion of the Junior Docents

Earlier this week I mentioned that we have Junior Docents working in the Museum this summer.

Yesterday was our second day of the Invasion of the Junior Docents and we survived. I have to say, I am learning a LOT from these bright kids!

1) It feels good to really talk history.
Usually when I talk to visitors, I try to gauge how interested they are in the history and base how deeply I discuss Laurel history based on that. Most of the time, I keep it general and broad and delve a little deeper when they seem interested. But usually we don't get down into the nitty gritty stuff.
But with the Junior Docents, I have a captive audience. And I don't have to sit there and lecture to them.
I get to ask them questions. So, why was the River important 350 years ago? Were there many roads? How do you think people got around? It's really fun. I get to watch their minds turn and see them put things together--it's really great.

2) Most kids are more creative than me!
The Junior Docents and I are using a set of materials that the Museum uses to train most of the docents. To make it more interactive and fun, we took the facts in the sheets and illustrated them on a white board.

Here's an example of how they are more creative than me:

We needed to talk about the importance of the Dam in producing water power for the Mill. I drew a block and wrote in the middle of the block "I am a dam". It gets the point across, right?
Well the girls who were working on the drawing with me thought this was hilarious.

After seeing their creations, I can see why. From an abstract drawing of the trip from Wales to the Colonies of Richard Snowden (the original), to the detailed drawing of a burning house, they were MUCH more creative. I can't wait to see what they are going to produce for the videos!

3) With the right people, anything is possible.
Like most things that take place under the auspices of the Laurel Historical Society, we have fairly lofty goals. Earlier this year Monica, our part time assistant, mentioned to me that it would be nice to have the Junior Docents star in a number of short clips about Laurel history. Not only would this allow special needs groups with mobility concerns to see more of the Museum and the surrounding area, but it would be great to put on youtube and on our website. What a GREAT idea!

So off we go trying to organize this. We spoke to Erica Smith of the Laurel Mill Playhouse to discuss script writing. Holly Lilienthal found us a a professional Videographer, Todd Broadwater, who is willing to record and edit our final videos. Maureen Rogers, also from Laurel Mill Playhouse will talk to the JD's about stage presence.

In all honesty, Monica and I know pretty much nothing about putting together short videos. We're doing our best with resources in the community. I hope that with the help of all of these great resources we'll produce a project that is worth the LHS name.

Thankfully we've been blessed with a group of WONDERFUL Junior Docents. Based on what we've done so far--I know they'll help us work through this.