Archive for Monday, April 4, 2011

Watkins museum director Steve Nowak hopes collections will tell stories

April 4, 2011


Steven Nowak is the new executive director of the Watkins Community Museum of History and the Douglas County Historical Society.

Steven Nowak is the new executive director of the Watkins Community Museum of History and the Douglas County Historical Society.

Steve Nowak has a wish list. At the top of that list is a historical basketball, circa the James Naismith era.

The basketball would fill what Nowak said is a gap in the collection at Watkins Community Museum of History, 1047 Mass., where Nowak is executive director.

“An antique basketball from the early days would be a signature item in the collection,” he said. Naismith, the inventor of basketball, started Kansas University’s basketball program in 1898.

Nowak, who took over the directorship at the museum on Feb. 28, wants to push the museum toward being an educational tool filled with tangible historical objects. In the past, it’s been mainly a research station, but he wants the collection to tell stories.

The museum has 35,000 objects, so Nowak said he’s not sure what other gaps there are to fill with new pieces.

“We’re just now starting to identify stories we want to tell with the permanent collection,” he said.

Nowak said the museum was looking for artifacts such as the basketball or handwritten letters from 150 years ago. He said household items would be helpful and any photos that could accompany them.

“It’s always fun to look at stuff from the past and learn from it,” Nowak said.

From these items, Nowak hopes to create educational exhibits. His first shot at one will be this summer’s exhibition titled “It Happened on Mass Street: 150 Years in Lawrence.”

The exhibit will open Aug. 9 and look at various events on Lawrence’s main drag, from Quantrill’s Raid to civil rights protests to the 2008 NCAA National Championship celebration.

Collections and exhibits of this type help people understand the community they’re a part of, Nowak said.

“The most important thing for everyone to understand about history is that history was made by people like you and me,” he said. “When you read about it, it seems like heroes in books.”

To donate an item to the museum, call 841-4109 and speak with Nowak or museum curator Brittany Keegan. They will want to hear a description of the item and decide whether the museum wants it. Emails and letters are also welcome.


David Holroyd 7 years, 2 months ago

If the Watkins Museum is fixated now a basketball, one can see with oneeye that the Museum will never amount to much. History revisionists. Poor Nowak don't now what the history has been . Get over with basketball, bring the history of Lawrence forward at least from the 2nd World War and get some facts before those left are ALL dead. Lawrence and the surrounding area was a power place in the WWII era

Kookamooka 7 years, 2 months ago

There is plenty of time for him to unearth all of the treasures that lie within. I'm just glad the focus will be on education and outreach and not exhibits that read like giant books.

mr_right_wing 7 years, 2 months ago

That place has been worthless since they got rid of Steve Jansen; I'd go to the museum about once a year under Steve, and always learned something new. I've never talked to another human being with as much expertise in local history as Mr. Jansen. I've gone back twice since his exit...complete and utter waste of time. The building is now a useless waste of space. We can't exactly get Steve back, but any decent history teacher in our school district could do a whole lot better than the idiots that are running that place now....a real same.

overthemoon 7 years, 2 months ago

Someday someone will be digging through old new articles and looking for info on the old History Museum. Will this article provide the kind of information a future historian would want? LIke, what is Mr. Novak's background, where's he from, what lead him to a career in History or Museum curatorship. Maybe more info was in one of the earlier articles, but I don't recall seeing anything of any depth that tells a story. We are writing history, whether in our newspapers or in our actions. It would be interesting to use that as a standard for news articles.

George_Braziller 7 years, 2 months ago

That's at the top of his wish list?

How about starting with just breathing some life into the place? Get the document archives organized so someone can find something? Change some of the displays that have been up for a couple of decades?

Right now isn't a museum. It's just a really great building with stuff stored in it.

mr_right_wing 7 years, 2 months ago

That could be argued.

Between entertainment/educational technology and a worsening economy, one day there will be no Watkins.

When that happens, we can thank Mr. Jansen for giving an extra 20 years of life to the slowly dying museum. Others as well? Of course, but very few to none who were as dedicated as Steve...the place is already merely a shell of what it once was.....

RIP Watkins.

mr_right_wing 7 years, 2 months ago

+1 point, 'thuja'

Hence the popularity of 'blogs'; we can all sit around and complain, even attack anonymously, but never have to do anything about it. No accountability.

That's, and you.......

Kookamooka 7 years, 2 months ago

If they can design exhibits that delight and engage children you build future donors. If the kids of this community remember how much fun they had there and how much they enjoyed it, they will want to bring their children.There used to be an excellent interactive kids exploration area on the third floor. It's trash now. Literally. Museums are funded through generational commitment over time. There isn't enough to do in this town for children. A really great history museum would be a welcome addition.

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