25 Jun 2014

Bridging the Gap

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Over the last few weeks, we’ve made several trips down to Jamestown, New York. Jamestown is a small city in Western New York’s “Southern Tier” and has a rich history that mostly revolves around manufacturing (especially furniture) and one of America’s favorite redheads, Lucille Ball. Our focus, however, was on the inside a certain Italian Villa-style mansion perched on a hill just south of downtown Jamestown—the Fenton History Center.

The Fenton History Center (FHC) is based in the Fenton Mansion, once owned by and named after Reuben E. Fenton, a native son and governor of New York State. He was also a congressman, senator, and bank president until his death in the late 1800s. The mansion was turned into the present-day FHC in the 1960s.

Thinking Outside the Square was tasked with creating an orientation room—a “Welcome to Jamestown” exhibit that informs visitors about Jamestown’s history the Fenton Family. The mansion presented a unique challenge of infusing some modern museum elements in a Victorian, historic setting provided by the mansion. The overall goal was to bring the orientation room into 2014 while still feeling like it is 1873.

Our solution? Furniture, of course. 

Like we mentioned earlier, Jamestown was one of the centers of furniture production in the United States, and there is no better way to introduce the history of the city than with a piece of sturdy, custom-made furniture. A Victorian-style desk served as inspiration for the project, the final product being as if one took an end-table and ssssstretched it out to about 12 feet long. A timeline chronicling Jamestown’s history runs up and down the desk’s angled face, and the drawers underneath the timeline hold artifacts from the FHC’s collection.

Two iPads also sit in the desk at opposite ends, giving the exhibit that little bit of modernity without interfering with the historic nature of the room. On the iPads, visitors can sift through presentations on niches of Jamestown history, like its industry, its founding, and even the history of the FHC itself. The touchscreens are great for younger visitors who want to see technology, and easy to see and read for all visitors.

A graphic panel on the wall featuring maps of Jamestown allows visitors to see the growth and changes of Jamestown from its founding to the current day. On another wall, a bookcase holds portraits of the Fenton Family members and allows visitors to pick them up, flip them over and read information on the back about the family member. This same idea is repeated for historic
images of the home on the bookcase.

Throughout the room, museum staff selected artifacts and filled spaces to give the room a fuller feel and allow access to more of the FHC’s interesting collection. The artifacts, exhibit desk and bookcase all work together to give the room the look and feel that was desired: modern exhibitry while still maintaining the historical character of the beautiful Fenton Mansion.

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