Chicago Open Archives

In the same spirit as Open House Chicago, Chicago Open Archives welcomes the public to tour over 30 cultural institutions around the city. Chicago Area Archivists hosts the event that runs from October 6 to October 8, 2016. Visitors have the opportunity to take part in behind the scenes tours and will have access to several places that are normally off limits to the public. Along with tours, visitors can engage with librarians, archivists, and museum curators. Other events include film screenings and exhibit talks.

Please note that in order to tour and/or participate in some of the events, preregistration may be required. Registration closes at midnight on October 4, 2016. There may be admission fees at some of the institutions. Check out the Chicago Open Archive website to learn more about the event and participating cultural institutions.

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“Stagestruck City: Chicago’s Theater Tradition and the Birth of the Goodman”: A Review

The following review evaluates the latest exhibition on display at the Newberry Library. It is free and open to the public from 8:15 am – 7:30 pm on Tuesdays through Thursdays, and from 8:15 am – 5:00 pm on Fridays through Mondays.

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Chicago-area scholars are most assuredly acquainted with the diverse array of historical resources available at the Newberry Library. However, what would happen if pieces from their acclaimed collections found a way off the shelves and into a gallery space? The answer can be found in a new exhibition called “Stagestruck City.”

According to the first didactic panel visitors encounter upon entering the exhibit, the show’s story is about the venerable Goodman Theatre, Chicago’s oldest center for performing arts. It aims to explore “the theatre’s founding within the context of a remarkable heritage of live performance and popular amusement in the city.” This mention of “context” is critical for the exhibition as a whole, as one of its greatest strengths is delving into the intricacies of the Goodman’s founding while not overwhelming the audience with details about just one location. Indeed, the exhibition begins by examining theatres that reigned over the Second City’s entertainment industry decades before the Goodman was even conceived.

Col. Wood's MuseumThe first segment of gallery space succeeds in drawing in the visitor. The vibrant posters from places like the Adelphi Theatre and Col. Wood’s Museum (left) are mesmerizing examples of ephemera, and scanning through them could make readers feel like they themselves are late-nineteenth century theater buffs. Before 1871, contemporary plays could amusingly share the stage with more carnivalesque attractions such as the world’s largest lion! Everything changed, though, with the Great Chicago Fire. The conflagration consumed Chicago’s entertainment venues, providing an opportunity for more grandiose theatrical arenas to rise in their wake.

Continue reading ““Stagestruck City: Chicago’s Theater Tradition and the Birth of the Goodman”: A Review”

Gypsy Coeds Ride the Silver Streak

When I began my internship at the Peoria Riverfront Museum this past May, I had a vague idea of what to expect. I had put together a small panel exhibit at Marquette University, and I had also developed a small exhibit for the Milwaukee County Historical Society. But I had never produced an exhibit that would serve as the main feature of a gallery. The Gypsy Coeds Ride the Silver Streak will occupy 2,000 square feet at the Peoria Riverfront Museum beginning this Friday, October 16, to January 17, 2016. Sifting through research materials and finding objects to feature in the exhibit was a rewarding and challenging process, and after fifteen weeks I feel like I learned more about the exhibit development process and how a small museum operates.

The Story

Twenty young women from Bradford, Illinois, traveled the country in a silver 1926 Ford Model T over eight summers in the 1930s and 1940s. They called themselves the Gypsy Coeds, and they dubbed their old “flivver” the Silver Streak. Wherever they went—Canada, New York, Atlanta, or California—they drew a crowd. Everyone wondered how these girls could travel across the country without a proper chaperone. The crowds were also astonished that the ancient “tin Lizzie” still ran! After all, by the last trip the car was sixteen years old. But the girls trusted the old Ford, and their story struck a chord with townsfolk and celebrities across North America.

I started work on the exhibit in the middle of May, and Kristan McKinsey, my supervisor and curator of the museum, already had a wealth of information for me to process. McKinsey had heard about the Gypsy Coeds from a museum member and had contacted John Butte, the owner of the Silver Streak. Butte had already begun extensive research on the Gypsy Coeds and the Silver Streak in preparation for writing a book about the trips. He had also developed a website about the girls and the car. Butte shared many of the objects he had at his disposal; his mother was a Gypsy Coed, and she collected many souvenirs on her trip in 1939. I had many resources at my disposal, and I was confident that I could put together a fun and educational exhibit.

McKinsey suggested that I begin by brainstorming ideas of what I wanted the exhibit to have in it; how would I convey this remarkable story? My interest in oral history led me to think of incorporating that element some how. McKinsey had also informed me that the museum had an interactive touch-screen, and she wanted to use it to trace the routes of some of the Gypsy Coeds’ more significant trips. But I also incorporated more traditional exhibit elements: labels, objects, and photographs. After discussing my ideas with McKinsey, she suggested creating a project timeline. After creating the timeline, I dove into the research.

Continue reading “Gypsy Coeds Ride the Silver Streak”

NCPH 2014: A Newbie’s Reflections

This post is part of a series from Loyola public historians attending NCPH 2014.

I do not know if it was the sea, the sun, or that California feeling, but I drank the Kool-aid. Throughout my graduate school experience, I have been told how NCPH is not like other conferences and how the people working in this field are supportive and encouraging of the work their colleagues are doing. From my experience at NCPH 2014 in Monterey Bay, California, I can testify to those statements. As I said to a professor on my return to Chicago, I had an odd, but exciting realization meeting others in the field, outside of my immediate circle.

Three instances stand out in my mind as indicative of the supportive and encouraging nature of the NCPH community. The first is my own experience. I participated in the poster session and a roundtable discussion, and both, produced some very insightful and productive discussions. My colleague, Laura Pearce, and I presented an exhibit proposal we developed for a required class, “Addressing Absences: Exhibiting African-American Suffragist”. At the beginning of the class, partnerships were being developed through our professor and community organizations.

Unfortunately, as things happen, the partnerships dissolved (scheduling conflicts and other distractions) and the exhibits never materialized. When we presented our work at NCPH, Laura and I were continually asked, “Where is this up?” “Is this still up?” “Is this online?” and when we informed visitors it had never actually come to fruition their response was simply, “Why?” Our colleagues wanted to see our exhibit realized, we received several recommendations of organizations we could and should approach with the proposal, and there was talk of going digital with it. So, after graduation, Laura and I have decided to pursue our exhibit proposal, using many of the connections and suggestions we received at NCPH.

 

Additionally, the roundtable I sat on “Sustaining Historic Preservation Through Community Engagement”, only reaffirmed the notion that our historical work must be centered in the contemporary community. My colleague on this panel, Rachel Boyle, makes several excellent points on this on this issue in her reflection on NCPH.

 

The third instance was in the panel “Pubic Historians interpret the Far West: A Field Report”. Danica Willis has been the Cultural Resource Manager at Whiskeytown National Recreation Area in northern California for the last three years. As a National Recreation Area, Whiskeytown attracts people, as Danica put it “for the beautiful lake, and the beautiful waterfalls, and the beautiful hiking”, but these visitors don’t necessarily understand the historical development of the area they are playing in. Over Danica’s time at Whiskeytown, she has pushed and prodded more interpretation and community involvement to Whiskeytown. Some of these ideas have worked great, as it did with the “Whiskeytown Harvest Festival” in which Danica promoted apple picking from the recreational area’s substantial orchard. In addition, the visitors were encouraged to think about why the orchards were there, who put them there, and how the planters would have used them. And like all experiments, some failed. But, Danica is excited about continuing to create a fuller and richer understanding (she apparently has a large white board full of ideas) of Whiskeytown as a place.

The conversations and discussions I observed and partook in at NCPH’s annual conference made me excited for the field.

 

Digital Exhibits: A Roundtable

As museums and historical institutions have increased their web presence, so too have we seen the rise of the digital exhibit. For public history graduate students, it’s almost impossible to escape a program without designing one of your own. Below, several past and current students of the Public History Program at Loyola University Chicago unpack the good and the bad of digital exhibits while adding some constructive suggestions along the way.

LFH Post

It is obvious that entering a digital exhibit is different from crossing the threshold of a physical exhibit space. What makes this difference important to us as public historians is how people react to what is being presented. In contrast to entering a designed physical space, the “threshold” one crosses when entering a digital exhibit on a computer screen has the same sensory experience as buying books or looking up pictures of cats. It is just another “click” in a long line of “clicks.”

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A Dark Double Bind: Criminal Women in the Eyes of Reformers

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As part of a summer research project sponsored by the Women and Leadership Archives at Loyola University and the Carolyn Farrell, BVM, Professorship in Women and Leadership, I created an online exhibit exploring how the women of the Chicago Woman’s Club (CWC) shaped ideas about crime and proper womanhood around the turn of the twentieth century.  My research yielded troubling questions about the ways in which we historically—and contemporarily—talk about violent femininity.

I encourage you to explore the exhibit for some delightfully colorful language that makes the early Progressive Era an entertaining period of study.  In the meantime, here’s the main gist: the white affluent women of the Chicago Woman’s Club considered it within their distinct purview as wives and mothers to protect and reform delinquent children and criminal women in order to make Chicago a better, safer city.  Members of the CWC saw criminal women and delinquent children as both causes and victims of urban crime, a perspective which positioned the clubwomen as saviors of the women, children, and the city.

Continue reading “A Dark Double Bind: Criminal Women in the Eyes of Reformers”

Project Projects: Test Fit, Not Your Average Art Exhibit

The Kurokawa Gallery at the Art Institute of Chicago is a unique and unusual setting for an exhibition.  As both exhibition space and as a transitional area between the Art Institute’s Modern Wing and the Impressionism Galleries this gallery is a busy thorough-fare populated more by patrons on their way to the popular Caffé Moderno than by those willing to stop and study an exhibit.  Many exhibitions would find themselves at a disadvantage placed in such a highly trafficked space, but Project Projects: Test Fit, an exhibition designed by the New York-based graphic design firm Project Projects on display until April 28th, is not like most exhibitions.  Using reproductions of objects from the Art Institute’s permanent collection, this exhibition seeks to comment both on the traditional curatorial process and on how museum exhibitions are designed.  Rather than suffering from the fact that the majority of visitors will simply glance at a few of the pieces and neglect to read the text in the labels, Project Projects: Test Fit embraces this inevitability and uses it to its advantage.  The average visitor will enjoy experiencing Project Projects: Test Fit for its visually striking images while the engaged visitor will appreciate the exhibit for its witty, thought-provoking, and at times poetic label text.

The visitor does not approach the Kurokawa Gallery from the side in a way that would provide an obvious beginning space for the exhibitions housed there; instead, the visitor first sees the middle of the exhibition space.  Rather than place the introductory text panel in this middle area directly in front of the opening onto the gallery space the designers chose to immediately confront their visitors with some of the most visually engaging pieces in the exhibition.  The view of these images provokes interest and discussion on the part of the visitors whether or not they read the accompanying labels.  With the intentional selection of images and design of labels throughout Project Projects: Test Fit, the visitor, whether she engages with the image alone or the image and the label in combination, will invariably be prompted to consider larger issues than simply the aesthetics of the images shown.

The view upon entering the Project Projects: Test Fit exhibition
The view upon entering the Project Projects: Test Fit exhibition

While Project Projects: Test Fit has the ability to encourage all visitors to engage in a deeper way with the material on display, the real engagement occurs for those visitors who take the time to read the labels throughout the exhibition.  Continue reading “Project Projects: Test Fit, Not Your Average Art Exhibit”

Two public history program grads walk into a museum…

As every public historian knows, our training has ruined museums for us.  Even when we’re just visiting a museum for fun, we find ourselves considering how the exhibits are arranged, examining how artifacts are mounted, analyzing the font size and layout of labels, and critically evaluating the interpretation.  The critic that we spend so much time cultivating in graduate school sometimes blinds us to the real power of museums.  But every once in a while, we encounter something special that captures our imagination and helps us to see museums with fresh eyes.

While in Washington D.C. this summer, a fellow Loyola public history graduate and I ventured out to the National Air and Space Museum Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia.  We were prepared for a fun day of looking at cool airplanes and analyzing the museum’s interpretation.  Having been to numerous aviation museums across the country, my inner critic was eager to see how the Smithsonian’s effort compared.

As we walked around talking about airplanes and critiquing label copy, I suddenly stopped.  Didn’t I just see something familiar?  We ran back to the World War II section, and there it was: a bomber jacket with my grandpa’s squadron patch on it.

I’d seen patch a thousand times, framed with my grandpa’s medals on the wall at my grandparents’ house in Washington State.  But what was it doing here?  The only label for the artifact indicated that it was donated by Russell Paulnock.  Clearly I would have to find out more.

I did some research when I got home and made some interesting discoveries.  My grandpa, Anthony Lauby, and Russell Paulnock both served in the 18th Bomb Squadron of the 34th Bomb Group in the 8thAir Force during World War II.  Grandpa enlisted in the Army Air Force in August, 1941 and became an aircraft mechanic, rising to the rank of Master Sergeant.  Paulnock enlisted in the Army Air Force in November, 1941 and became a bomber pilot, attaining at least the rank of Second Lieutenant.

Master Sgt. Lauby in Blythe, California, c. 1943

Both men trained with the 34thbomb group in Blythe, California before going overseas to Mendlesham, England in 1944.  While in England, Paulnock piloted the B-24 “Belle of the Brawl,” and my grandpa was a crew chief overseeing the maintenance and repair of B-17s and B-24s.  I can’t ask grandpa if he knew Russell Paulnock, because, like an increasing number of World War II veterans, he is no longer around to ask.  But maybe he worked on “Belle of the Brawl,” and maybe he even saw Paulnock in the same jacket that I stumbled upon almost 70 years later and a world away.

Overall, my friend and I enjoyed our time at the National Air and Space Museum.  The chance encounter with Paulnock’s bomber jacket enabled us to step outside our analytical headspace and see the artifacts in the museum with a sense of wonder, reminding us of the power of museums to connect visitors to the past.