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Archive for the ‘NEH’ Category

Hello. Teresa here. I’m the curatorial assistant at Hull-House and I want to give an update on an exciting interactive exhibit that we inaugurated in September.

If you’ve visited the Museum lately, you’ll know that the new exhibition has rooms organized thematically, but with multiple voices telling a story. The story of juvenile justice is what the “Unfinished Business” exhibit space tells through wall-based illustrations, linking the history and current state from the point of view of reformers, legislators, youth, and abolitionists.

Images tell the history of the first juvenile court. Illustrations by Josh Peter. Photo by Adam Mark.

More illustrations about the history of juvenile justice. Photo by Lauren Meranda.

More than storytelling, the space is also a “call to action,” asking visitors to engage with the various stations set up in the room. The stations represent different grassroots, local and national groups dedicated to some facet of reforming the juvenile justice system or abolishing the prison-industrial complex.

Tamms Year Ten action station. Photo by Adam Mark.

For example, the “Tamm Year Ten” station tells the story of Tamms super-maximum prison in southern Illinois that houses inmates under permanent isolation. The Tamms Year Ten group—an eclectic coalition of activists, artists, lawyers, prisoners, and ex-prisoners—is dedicated to ending the psychological torture of total confinement, which is counter-productive to rehabilitating inmates. As one Tamms prisoner stated: “I will ask you, ‘Lock yourself in your bathroom for the next 10 years and tell me how it will affect your mind.” Tamms Year Ten’s moniker reflects the prison’s tenth anniversary (currently in its eleventh year). Founded on the notion of short-term punishment, many prisoners at Tamms supermax have been there for a decade.

The Tamms Year Ten station is interactive, engaging visitors with a project to send poems to prisoners. (Why? Because prisoners asked for them.) Here is what a postcard looks like:

Postcard for Tamms prisoners

What makes this so very exciting is that the public response has been tremendous. Since its inception, we’ve collected around 250 postcards for the prisoners. The station provides numerous poetry books and asks visitors to read and transcribe a poem that resonates with them on a postcard. Not only are the selection of poems beautiful but the postcards are lovingly rendered. To see them will tell of the love:

 

Usually in a museum setting, visitors spend a few minutes with an exhibit and mere seconds with an object. The carefully crafted Tamms postcards show that our visitors have been spending substantial time in “Unfinished Business.” These acts demonstrate that our museum visitors are not just consumers of history but also agents of change. The act of writing a postcard is our museum public’s way of contributing to the ongoing fight to wage reform, and the remarkable response shows that the spirit of the Hull-House Settlement is ever-present.

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Lucy here. I’m the Hull-House Museum’s summer intern, here through funding from Smith College. Lisa Junkin gave me the special task of creating an entry for the famous Hull-House blog on whatever my heart desires! I figured I would report on developments in the room I’ve spent the most time in–the new library area.

The museum is looking so incredible these days, it makes me wish I weren’t going home before the September opening. Although I never saw the old exhibit in place, on my first day Lisa Lee took me on a quick tour of the mansion. This was after only one of the rooms had been painted and absolutely nothing of the new exhibition was in place.

At the end, we stopped by a room on the first floor, once a dining room for residents. When I think about that room I saw on my first day, I think ugly curtains hiding otherwise beautiful bottle-glass windows, I think peeling wall paper, I think, ugh!

But nowadays, our library area couldn’t be more incredible.

Glorious, historically accurate terracotta paint! Exquisite furnishings! Spectacular artwork! A couple of exhibits completed by a certain lucky intern!

It’s no surprise that I chose this room in particular to write about. For one thing, a lot of essential elements of the exhibit are in place, so it’s easy to imagine how it will look. But also, this is where two of my main projects of the summer will live. One is a globe that demonstrates Jane Addams’ world travels. Did you know that Addams went to Europe nine times throughout her life in addition to traveling to Egypt, India, The Philippines, Mexico, China, and Japan?

The other exhibit I’ve been working on is called the bookshelf project. It’s pretty neat—one shelf will display books from Addams’ personal collection (those will be behind glass). The other shelves will be filled with about 45 books that are written by reformers, residents, and other figures with a connection to Hull-House. I loved researching for this exhibit. I learned about John Dewey and pragmatism, the Pullman Strike, WILPF, suffrage, and much, much more.

Jane Addams' signature from a book she owned

For each book, I composed a bookmark that points out interesting pages or passages, gives background information, and explains the book’s connection to Hull-House.Visitors will be able to pick these books off the shelves, (hopefully read the informative bookmark!) and flip through the pages to get an idea of the wide array of subjects connected to Hull-House and Addams.

Reading was central to Addams. Not only was she the author of many books and speeches, she knew that books had the power to inspire and change. In my research for the exhibit I came across an anecdote from Louise deKoven Bowen about Jane Addams’ dedication to reading. When Addams was notified that the ambulance was late to take her to the last operation she had before she died she replied, “That’s all right, for that will give me time to finish the book I am reading.”

All of the formatting is done and now we just need to print them out and put them in their books. Many of the furnishings are in place, and the art work (all completed by artists connected to Hull-House) is up on the walls. Very exciting stuff!

As today is my last day, I know I’ll be spending more time in this room figuring out finishing touches for the bookshelf. I hope I’ll have a chance to sit in the rocking chair and take in the space one more time. More importantly, I hope that in a few weeks visitors will stop by this room to reflect and discuss, examine and read.

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Elegant gray walls in the Receiving Room

… that a fresh coat of paint makes all the difference. It sure seems to be true here at Hull-House, where we’re putting the final touches on our renovations.

Mike Plummer, our Historic Preservationist, took these photos of the house last week. We’ll have more shots once we begin installing the artifacts.

We are less than ONE MONTH away from our re-opening on September 7th. Stay tuned for more behind-the-scenes updates…

The back parlor has terra cotta walls... just like when Jane Addams lived here.

I can't believe this used to be our office! It looks much better now.

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A Trip to Cedarville

Display at the Cedarville Historical Society

One of the most exciting components to the new exhibition is the restoration and opening up of Jane Addams’s bedroom on the second floor of the house. As we’ve thought about how to present a fuller story of Jane Addams, we knew there would have to be a pilgrimage to her hometown. So, on Tuesday, November 17, Amy, Teresa and I (Naomi) headed out to Cedarville, IL. Cedarville, population 750, is about 120 miles northwest of Chicago. There’s very little to see en route, mostly miles and miles of flat farmland. We got slightly diverted (due to my less than perfect navigating) and drove through Freeport, which is small town, but was quite a hub in the mid-nineteenth century. People traveled frequently between Freeport and Chicago 150 years ago, and the second debate between Lincoln and Douglas took place there in 1858. My favorite fact about Freeport is that its high school football team is named The Pretzels!?! I’ve done a little research since our trip, and it turns out Freeport is known as “The Pretzel City.”

After driving up a picturesque country road, we pulled up to the Cedarville Area Historical Society at about 12:45 and were greeted at the door by Jim Bade. He is the director of the Society and was eager to invite us in for some coffee and brownies. As we entered the building, the first thing we noticed was a plaque dedicating the site to Jane Addams. We felt right at home!

Over brownies baked by Jim’s wife and some coffee, Jim told us all about the activities of Cedarville and the role the Historical Society plays in the lives of the citizens there. One interesting tidbit he told us was that their Memorial Day Parade, a big event for the town, is the shortest one in the country… something like 1 minute and 30 seconds long. At least he has a good sense of humor about small-town life.

He told us that they are continuously raising money to continue restoration of the old school house the Society inhabits and rely heavily on volunteers and donations in order to operate. They have a free, outdoor film series in the summer and Jane Addams Day festivities every year, among other programs. The museum exhibition occupies only one room of the building, but the plan is to expand into the room next to it which is currently used as a meeting space and move the meeting space upstairs to a beautiful space waiting to be restored.

Jane Addams and her family are only one component of the museum exhibition, though definitely the most extensive. We discovered some beautiful and charming artifacts related to Jane, like a small chemistry set, some items she knitted, a series of letters she wrote as a young girl (many bearing illustrations with captions and always with a backwards “J” in her signature- click on the photos to see a larger image).

 

Jane Addams's Chemistry Set

The letters were the most striking artifacts to the three of us. We’d never seen them and were excited to gain some insight into Jane as a child. She was certainly precocious! No surprise.

Letter written by a young Jane Addams

The other exhibits revolved around other citizens of Cedarville, some of whom were connected to the Addams family and some who were significant in different ways. Many Cedarville citizens that they’ve represented there fought in the Civil War. Jim showed us all of the publications they create there and the recordings of their public programs. We also got a look at their small research center, which had some really interesting, but as of yet, unstudied rare books. Jim is a one-man-show and desperate for a researcher and an archivist/librarian. We told him we’d keep our ears open for him.

On our way out of town, we drove by the old Addams Homestead, which is beautiful, but now privately owned, so we could only take a look from the outside. It was an impressive sight, though, and made us realize how much more impressive it must’ve been when John Addams built it in 1854 (just two years before the future Hull-House was built). Just up the road was the cemetery in which Jane and her family were buried. We stopped by and paid our respects and took in the scenery.

Paying respects at Addams's grave

All in all, a productive and useful trip. We will definitely incorporate in our new exhibit some of the interesting ideas and bits of information we picked up while we were there.

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The Hidden Collection

A visit to off-site storage is always a wonderful way to see more of the Hull-House Collection. On a recent trip to the warehouse, Mike, Amy, and Teresa set off to find artifacts for the new exhibition.

Although we had ideas in mind for which objects to retrieve, we stumbled upon many mementos that sparked our imagination about creative ways to celebrate the rich history of the Reformers, Residents, and Neighbors of Hull-House. We ran across several wonderful objects, now under consideration for display.

For example, Mike discovered an exuberant elevator sign, which could be used to frame the future lift in the Museum.

elevator sign

Amy uncovered a fanciful sofa that, with a touch of restoration, could serve as a place for visitors to sit and read from the Library and ponder the influences of Hull-House.

sofa

Teresa chanced on some table lamps that would be amazing additions to the Museum space, bringing aglow the exhibition and architectural features of the House.

lamps

Lastly, we shared enthusiasm over a small, green table with expandable leaves, a whimsical illustration for the Mary Crane Nursery School.

kindergarten table

We are only scratching the surface of the Collection. More exciting objects are sure to come! Look for future previews of artifacts here on the blog. Of course, if you have a memento of your favorite Hull-House Reformer, please share by posting comments. We’d love to hear from you!

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A Day in the Life Of…

Lisa J. here, reporting on my current project for the new permanent exhibit.  Recently I have been working on an exhibit we’re calling “A Day in the Life Of…”, which offers visitors a peek into the lives of immigrants who lived in the 19th Ward of Chicago as well as the lives of the Hull-House residents.

“Residents” are what we call the middle to upper class women and men who lived at Hull-House and contributed to the work of the settlement by teaching classes, conducting research on neighborhood conditions, etc.

Neighborhood Children

Neighborhood Children

Jane Addams Memorial Collection, Department of Special Collections, The University Library, The University of Illinois at Chicago. JAMC 112.

The Hull-House settlement was a place where different social classes interacted on a regular basis, which makes this exhibit really fun to put together.  Although the lives of immigrants (often called “neighbors” in Hull-House lingo) and residents were vastly different, their lives intersected at Hull-House: over a hot meal in the coffee house, around a work table in the ceramics studio, among basketballs and weights in the gymnasium, and within the library of the Hull mansion.

Teacher and Students in Pottery Class

Teacher, Students, and Dog in Pottery Class

Jane Addams Memorial Collection, Department of Special Collections, The University Library, The University of Illinois at Chicago. JAMC 956.

There a number of challenges with this exhibit, however.  One is that we don’t necessarily know exactly how particular residents and neighbors spent their days, which makes it hard to remain accurate while still giving an intimate picture of a person’s life.  The other challenge is how to compare the lives of immigrants and reformers, including their class differences, without reducing their lives to a stereotype.

Though it is true that the daily lives of many immigrants were extremely difficult due to exploitation in the workplace and dangerous living conditions, that isn’t the only way to understand their lives.  Immigrants are of course also producers of culture and knowledge and their passions, talents, and dreams must also be revealed to museum audiences.

Residents, too, have their own complex stories to tell.  They lived among their immigrant neighbors, but they also had full time work, family, and friends in prominent social circles.  Their successes (and failures) in passing through these two worlds can be difficult to convey.

Anyhow, I will report back on the exhibit once I work out a few more details.  Onward!

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For us at the Hull-House, the NEH process is an exciting one, a dynamic two-way exchange of thought and practice. We’re engaged in a range of topics, and look to research to frame our ideas and actions. Sometimes the literature is serious, sometimes irreverent but always impassioned about the issues. A passion about our work and Jane Addams’ legacy is something we hope to get across in the new exhibit.

Here are some texts we are currently perusing about the (sometimes quirky) topic of wall labels:

Lavine, Steven D. Exhibiting Cultures: The Poetics and Politics of Museum Display. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian, 1991.

Schaffner, Ingrid. “Wall Text.” What Makes a Great Exhibition? Paula Marincola, ed. Philadelphia: Philadelphia Exhibitions Initiative, 2006.

Serrell, Beverly. Exhibit Labels: An Interpretative Approach. Walnut Creek, Lanham, New York, and Oxford: Altamira Press and Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 1996.

Yau, John. “Please Wait by the Cloakroom.” Out There: Marginalization and Contemporary Cultures, ed. Russell Ferguson, Martha Gever and Trinh T. Minh-ha. New York: New Museum of Contemporary Art, 1990.

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