Dec 22, 2013

Garst interns help preserve history for new generations

BY BOB ROBINSON
ASSOC. EDITOR
GREENVILLE – How do you preserve the future of a museum by making it relevant to today’s generation? Especially when you have a limited budget and ongoing projects…

One possible solution is interns.

Universities provide classroom and, where appropriate, laboratory instruction. In order to provide hands-on experience they typically go outside the educational environment. Garst Museum Director Clay Johnson, Ph.D. has tapped into that opportunity with Wright State University.

“Wright State has one of the few Public History Programs offering a Master of Arts degree for students interested in the museum or archives professions,” he said. Part of the degree requirement is a 300-hour internship.

In the Spring of 2011 the museum took its first three WSU interns.

Noel Rihm was assigned to research the Longtown settlement, then assist in the design, construction and promotion of the exhibit. The completed project is part of the Village Wing.

Later, Elizabeth Koch and Leona Sargent joined the team for their internships. Sargent worked on Collections. Koch was assigned the task of upgrading the Lowell Thomas room with “budget conscious” funding.

Who was Lowell Thomas? Koch was among many of her generation who didn’t know anything about him. She said later she’d had a wonderful experience researching Thomas.

“Lowell was such an interesting man,” she said. “Always wanting to see new sights and learn new things.” Delving into the collection taught her a lot about the rise of broadcasting and the age of technology as well.

“I hope to renew the public interest in this fascinating man and to continue his legacy to future generations,” she added.

Johnson said the re-interpretation of the Lowell Thomas exhibit resulted in a remarkable transformation in telling his story.

“Her assignment was to make him relevant to her generation… to those who didn’t grow up with him.”

Johnson pointed out a flag in the Lowell Thomas room. It flew over the actual surrender of the Turks to the British in 1917 at the end of World War I.

“I believe it was loaned to other museums in the very distant past,” he said, “I’m not going to let it go again.”

When Rihm was working on the Longtown exhibit there were few artifacts in the collection, so she helped Koch work with the thousands of artifacts needing to be organized for the Lowell Thomas exhibit. Since the Longtown exhibit was completed, however, new artifacts have started coming in.

Sargent helped with collections, cataloging artifacts. The museum has over 300,000 pieces that must be identified, labeled, photographed and now cataloged digitally. Johnson noted this would not be possible without the additional help of volunteers.

Another WSU intern, David Manges, is a retired major from the military. He was exploring the basement of the old Garst house and came upon a World War One unit photograph, Company M, 166th Infantry Regiment after returning from France in 1918. He didn’t know how – or if – it tied to Darke County.

“In a true ‘Twilight Zone’ moment, later that afternoon, Nancy Stump was showing me a neat little English to French translation phrase book,” he said. “The book appeared to be of WWI vintage, so I thumbed through it… inside the back cover was an inscription: “David E. Rumel, INF, SGT, Co M, 166 INF, 42nd Rainbows, New Weston, Allen Township, Darke County, Ohio.”

Manges said additional research showed Rumel was born in Greenville and later moved to New Haven. Manges tied the photo to Darke County.

The latest intern was Jason Swiatkowski, who completed the “Darke County the Way it Was” exhibit.

“Jason’s job was to find what he felt was the driving force that made the county what it is today,” Johnson said at the recent unveiling of the exhibit.

The Garst director acknowledged he was especially pleased with the weather vane in the Darke County room. It was donated by the Christopher Collection from the 1960’s.

“It’s folk artist style, which is highly prized by collectors. It was actually on a barn… you can see the dents where someone took pot shots at it.”

Johnson said he’s looking forward to working with additional interns in the spring.

Garst Museum Director Clay Johnson, Ph.D., looks over an old record book museum researcher Nancy Stump had found. (Bob Robinson photo)

Clay Johnson was pleased with the museum’s folk artist style weather vane in Darke County exhibit. Noting it was actually used at one time, he pointed out the dents where someone had taken pot shots at it. (Bob Robinson photo)

A highlight of the Lowell Thomas Room is the flag that flew over the surrender of the Turks to the British in 1917. (Bob Robinson photo)

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