Creating the Wood River Museum of History and Culture
By Mary Tyson; Director of the Jeanne Rodger Lane Center for Regional History
Many years ago, I saw a light brick-colored, rough-surfaced figurine as tiny as a doll. As I imagined the artist’s hand forming the clay, time dissolved. The encounter with Mexican artist Rufino Tamayo’s collection of pre-Hispanic figurines spotlighted what museums can do. It opened up the door to how a figurine from the past could speak so directly to me. It’s this kind of door-opening the Wood River Museum of History and Culture is inviting.
Understanding the Importance of Story
Library staff and community members discussed loudly and passionately what should be included in our first exhibits. From education to immigration, ski history to indigenous history, the possibilities went on and on until we were truly tired. And then, the realization above all others: As a library and museum it is our responsibility to receive, preserve, and tell stories from diverse community members.
Honoring Time and Space
Meanwhile, the building at Fourth and Walnut was springing up through the summer and then through the very long, snowy winter, and into spring. Once we made the big choices on the main exhibits and displays, we worked with a fabricator from Vancouver to create special exhibit cases, interpretive panels, hanging display mounts, and other innovative constructs. You name it; they will make it.
They were also good at sourcing objects like refurbished typewriters from the 1920s to help with the experience of Hemingway as a prolific writer in the 20s and 30s before he set foot in Sun Valley. The typewriters provide a visceral experience for Museum visitors of what it’s like to write in the era that Hemingway did.
We had to be disciplined about choosing which objects would best illustrate the stories we were telling.
In addition to artifacts in our own collection, we needed to search for items in the community that would do right by the exhibit, even though it was harder to accomplish. In some instances, we had to abandon or modify our ideas. For example, we wanted our “Flying Squirrel” ski lift chair for a photo op in the exhibit Portrait of a Mountain, but it was crumbling too much. And we didn’t have a Baldy chair in good enough shape, either. Time was of the essence, so we found a restored chair from Dollar Mountain, and with Tim Deckard’s passion, we rigged it so that it would swing a little, adding depth and interest to the exhibit (much to the chagrin of our construction manager, Morley Golden).
We knew that in making another exhibit about Hemingway, we had to convey the great power in his writing. We curated objects that were emblematic of his disciplined writing life—his books and published stories.
Our Cabinet of Wonders displays an extraordinary arrangement of doors, drawers, pulls, and lifts that challenge you to open them up and discover the historical artifacts inside.
From the 25 unique items in the Cabinet of Wonders, to each and every subject and object in the museum, our choices were driven by curiosity, and created by teamwork, inspiration, and a relentless dedication to our community and to the stories that forged it.
The Wood River Museum of History and Culture
All the exhibits at the Wood River Museum include interactive elements, where visitors are encouraged to write, type, talk, and remember – because we all are part of history! Visitors are invited to explore the Shoshone-Bannock Tribal Room, How in the World Did you Get to Sun Valley?, A Writer in New Country: Hemingway in 1939, Portrait of a Mountain, and the Cabinet of Wonders. Entrance to the Museum is FREE, Tuesday-Saturday, 10:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m. More here.