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Archive for Monday, January 3, 2011

Kansas Museum of History celebrates state’s 150th anniversary with ‘150 Things I Love About Kansas’ exhibit

January 3, 2011

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— A cottonwood chair carved by a chainsaw artist, the "goat-gland" doctor's naval hat, the use of sunflowers on clothing and political campaign material, and virtual story tellers will populate the Kansas Museum of History to celebrate the state's 150th anniversary in January.

The "150 Things I Love About Kansas" will be on display for 11 months, starting Jan. 28, in the special exhibits gallery of the museum. On Jan. 29, 1861, Kansas entered the union as the 34th state.

"We want people to see 150 objects or images that represent Kansas symbols and stereotypes, but we also want to turn those stereotypes inside out and invited public reaction," Rebecca J. Martin said during an interview. Martin is the assistant director of the museum. "There are more than 150 things we love about Kansas, but we're hoping to stimulate conversation about that."

Among the objects on display will be a Kansas Navy cap worn by John R. Brinkley, a Kansas doctor claiming he could restore male virility by implanting goat glands in his patients. State governors bestowed the honor on Brinkley, whose cap had the Kansas seal on it, according to the Kansas Historical Society website.

The sesquicentennial exhibit goes beyond a static display of objects. It will have "interactives" allowing museum visitors to take an active role, Martin said.

One is a series of "virtual story tellers," Martin said. "We're really excited about bringing this new technology into the gallery."

It starts with a "virtual greeter," who will list history trivia, tying it to one of three story tellers. With the sweep of a hand, a visitor can pick which story teller to hear.

The life-size figures displayed on a glass screen will be a woman living in the turbulent territorial days of Bleeding Kansas in the 1850s; a young Hispanic worker building railroads in Kansas during the late 1800s; and a soldier stationed at Fort Riley in 1918 during the flu epidemic that killed millions around the world. The pandemic started at Fort Riley.

"I think people will love it," Martin said. "We're on the cutting edge of the museum field when it comes to using this virtual technology."

Another interactive is the "video story booth," where a visitor has up to two minutes to explain what he or she loves about Kansas.

The best stories from the video booth will be posted on "Kansas Memory," the Kansas Historical Society's collections portal on kansasmemory.org.

At a kiosk, a visitor can scroll through photos of 150 notable Kansans, order trading cards, then pick them up at the admissions desk. The Kansans include prohibitionist Carry Nation, abolitionist John Brown and William "Buffalo Bill" Cody, who grew up in Leavenworth and was a buffalo hunter, army scout and wild west show entertainer.

At another interactive, touching a region of Kansas on a map produces a video of that area's landscape, Martin said. About a third of the museum visitors are out-of-state travelers or people from other countries who don't know the state's landscape, she said.

Themes of the exhibit will be the Wild West, which will explore the real west, not versions depicted in movies and rodeos; weather and how it impacts the lives of Kansans; "The Wizard of Oz," the L. Frank Baum book that transformed the world's view of Kansas; sunflowers; the state's landscape; famous people, native peoples, and immigrants; and wheat.

Some of Martin's favorite Kansas objects are:

  • Western movie posters, which are "wonderful."
  • Chair carved from a cottonwood trunk, which has state symbols cut into it. The chair also has a "wacky story."
  • Sunflowers, especially how politicians have used the sunflower in campaign materials as an emblem to characterize Kansans as "sunny, open and bright."

The exhibit is funded in part by the Capitol Federal Foundation and the Kansas Humanities Council, a nonprofit cultural organization.

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