Throughout the entire year we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the creation of the American Textile History Museum. It was founded as the Merrimack Valley Textile Museum by Caroline Stevens Rogers in 1960 in North Andover, MA, and although we have relocated to Lowell and undergone major renovations during the past 50 years, we are still true to her legacy. On Sunday, May 23, we celebrated in a special way as we opened our doors free to all visitors. Lowell Mayor Jim Milinazzo offered some inspiring words and presented us with a citation from the city attesting to the importance of our Museum to the city, the region and beyond. Mayor Millinazzo cut the large celebratory cake and all of us took care of our need for something sweet before heading through the exhibits.
I took the opportunity to speak to some of the folks as they exited, soliciting comments be they good or bad. I did get some comments about the need for better way-finding signage, and I acknowledge this is a need, but the majority of the comments were like the ones we’ve had for nearly a year since we opened. Comments like:
“This place is great, I had no idea textiles did so many things,” or “Wow, this place is great; there’s so much here that I couldn’t finish. I’ll have to come back with my dad–he’d love the machinery.”
It’s great for us to get this positive feedback, as it lets us know we’re on the right track. We know we have a lot of work to do to make it even better and keep it fresh, but it’s good to know we’re headed in the right direction.
I’ll get to the perfect storm shortly, but part of understanding the perfect storm is to better understand why Caroline Stevens Rogers started this museum in the first place. When she wrote a piece for her alma mater in 1965 she wrote the following about the spinning wheels, wooden hand looms and other wooden tools that formed the early collection: “The character of its maker and of its former owners became clearer to us and we realized that here were objects that should be used not only to tell a mechanical but also a human story. We felt we must pass on to others an appreciation of the skill, ingenuity and beauty that went into these common household articles.”
The key words for me are “the character of its maker” and “a human story.” As important as it is that we hold the most significant combined collection of textile objects in the Americas–if not the world–of equal or perhaps greater significance is the stories of the people who owned them. We are especially thrilled when we can connect human stories with specific artifacts. Such a combination permits us to display the richest possible exhibits.
OK. The PERFECT STORM! Yesterday was a perfect storm of sorts, but a couple of weeks ago I was so happy because virtually all of our desired audiences were here at the same time. We had several groups of University of Massachusetts Lowell engineering students making presentations to our Director of Interpretation Diane Fagan Affleck. Diane had walked them through parts of our exhibit and asked them to offer up better mechanical descriptions of exhibit elements, or perhaps other ideas. In the Sun Charities Gallery Curator Karen Herbaugh worked with Lasell College fashion design students on the final touches for Inspired Design, an exhibit scheduled to open in a few days. The students had used hats in our collection as design inspiration to fashion their own creations for the exhibit.
In the Stevens Gallery there were three or four families of Cambodian descent viewing the More Than A Number exhibit concerning the Cambodian Genocide and the survival of the Cambodian refugees, many of whom have found new lives in Lowell. In the Webster Education Center 60 fifth graders were captivated by the presentations by education leaders Sue Bunker and Kathy Hirbour. Across the hall in the the Weston Howland Textile Learning Center (TLC), two young mothers with four toddlers were thoroughly engaged in crafts and other hands-on activities. As I was ordering my lunch in the Gazebo Café two separate senior groups were having their lunch after having toured the exhibits. Although I don’t think it was exactly the same day, I do want to include Simmons College, as three representatives of Simmons recently met with our Librarian Clare Sheridan to discuss some ongoing and future programs.
A perfect storm? Why? For me it was perfect because we had folks from quite a few walks of life, and they all thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Some spoke of the wooden looms that were Caroline Stevens Rogers’ first treasures. Some spoke of the artifacts on display in the “Industrial Revolution” area. Some spoke of the garments in “Fitting In,” some of the machinery, some of More Than A Number, some the astronauts glove, some the airplane, and some the baseball wall.
I’m happy we have completed what we have to date, but more work is ahead of us if we want to keep this Museum on the right track, offering fresh, exciting and interesting exhibit for all ages.
Before I close I do want to acknowledge Samuel S. Rogers, who passed away on April 29. Sam was Caroline Stevens Rogers’ son and a great friend and supporter of the Museum. Sam served as Trustee and Advisor for many years and was Chairman of the Museum from 1981-1983. I remember my first encounter with Sam. It was the first year we had the mini golf event in the Museum and Sam walked in, put his arm around me, grabbed the club in my hands and said: “Come on, let me show you how to hit a few shots.” He asked where the first tee was located and off we went. Sam was great fun, a great supporter and a great person. We’ll miss him.
President & CEO