News Column

Thin Ice: Museum offers peek at major exhibit before it's finished

July 3, 2014

By Dan Lyksett, The Leader-Telegram, Eau Claire, Wis.

July 03--Museum visitors traditionally are exposed to completed exhibits, collaborations by professional designers, curators and writers that are polished to a shiny glow before opening to the masses.

Visitors to the Chippewa Valley Museum's annual Independence Day celebration Friday will be given the rare opportunity to see a major exhibit-in-progress.

And over the next few months museum visitors will get an even rarer treat: the chance to witness its continued construction and even impact the exhibit's narrative.

"Changing Currents: Reinventing the Chippewa Valley" is the museum's ambitious new major exhibit, designed to illustrate the human dimensions -- their actions and interactions -- of our valley's history.

"It takes us from the American Indians who were already here up to very close to the present day," John Vanek, museum editor, told me during a tour of the exhibit Tuesday.

Most of what Vanek called the "dangerous and dirty work" on the 4,200-square-foot exhibit, the construction of walls, of display cases, of even small buildings, is done. Visitors to the sneak peek Friday will stroll through five of six planned sections arranged chronologically, each attempting to show-and-tell the stories of the people living in that time. There will be physical displays ranging from a French fur trader cabin to a mock summer resort to an automobile. (In the cabin kids will be able to interact with a 3D animated fur trader.) Some of the artifacts pertinent to the stories, maps, tools, a beaver pelt., etc., and some of the story boards will be on display.

With the completion of the exhibit not scheduled until early December, there's much work left to do. But rather than blockading the exhibit as work continues for the next five months, museum visitors will be able to walk the exhibit whenever it's safe and practical, witnessing the displays and the narrations coming together.

And those visitors can have an impact on the final product.

"We're going to be reaching out for feedback from all sorts of visitors, professionals we'll be inviting in and from folks that just come through," Vanek said.

"We can't change what happened, but we can learn about how well we're telling the stories and things we might want to add."

For more than two decades I've recommended that newcomers to our community, whether they were overnight visitors or modern day settlers, experience the museum's two previous exhibits, "Paths of the People: The Ojibwe in the Chippewa Valley" and "Settlement and Survival: Building Towns in the Chippewa Valley, 1850-1925." I thought those two provided a valuable historical perspective to this valley we call home.

This new exhibit promises to more closely connect those human narratives, to add important new actors and to expand its scope to include our more contemporary history.

Have you ever stopped to consider the similar challenges offered by the end of the lumbering era and the closing of the Uniroyal tire plant?

Neither had I. But the folks at the museum did.

Lyksett can be reached at 715-830-5926 or


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Source: Leader-Telegram (Eau Claire, WI)

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