Monday, November 28, 2011

An aMAIZEing Exhibit


If you live in Iowa, then you know that it almost impossible to escape the corn that surrounds us. Fields of corn line highways and it has even been prominently displayed in movies and documentaries. But how much do you really know about the corn that feeds and fuels us?


The Old Capitol Museum has had the pleasure of hosting a traveling exhibit called “Maize: Mysteries of an Ancient Grain” Based on this exhibit developed by the Museum of the Earth in Ithaca, New York I can honestly say that I had no idea how aMAIZEing this plant is! The exhibit has been with the Old Capitol Museum since August and will, sadly, leave us in a few short weeks.



One of the things I found most interesting about the exhibit were the “What inspired me to become a scientist” panel adorning the walls. Reading these, you discover the variety of backgrounds and interests that drew so many different researchers to study maize.



The exhibit has great interactive areas that look at the evolution of maize, its past and present functions and threats to healthy maize development.


(CORNy Products)

The teacher in me envisioned all kinds of connections to school curriculum from science and math to history, English and drama. I encourage visitors to check it out because it won’t be here very much longer. You can listen to Dr. Erin Irish on IPR discuss the impressive characteristics of corn and answers questions from listeners. I got a sneak peak a few weeks ago and was fascinated but how orderly those little stalks of corn are!


(What a CORNy picture!)

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

When the museum IS your collection

I had the chance to sit down with Shalla Wilson Ashworth, director of operations, the other day and talk about collections at the Old Capitol Museum. One of the things I have learned in my introduction to museum studies course is the central role collections play to a museum. But what happens when the museum itself is, essentially, the collection?


That’s what Shalla and I discussed! While the museum does have a small collection of “old cap” memorabilia and items historically accurate to this building’s time as the house for state governance, the museum would not be considered a “collection” museum. Instead, the museum itself is the collection, representing Iowa City role as the first place for state governance, the place where the first constitution was written, the place where class were first held at the University of Iowa and, now, a place for students to come and experience government. The museum has made the conscience decision to use historically accurate replicas of desks and chairs in the House Chamber for the purpose of letting young people sit in the chairs and work at the desks without fear of breaking delicate objects. In many ways, this makes the Old Capitol Museum a “living” museum where people are encouraged to touch, sit and put themselves in the shoes of people from the past. Having ample space but limited items giving the Old Capitol Museum the opportunity to have traveling exhibits like the Maize Exhibit and temporary exhibits like the Life on the Prairie Photography exhibits, not to mention the ability to have regular speakers, class and concerts up in the Senate Chamber.

But what happens with the items they do have, can’t display, but don’t have room to store. They use it, of course! As Shalla and I talked in her office, she directed me to the fact that her desk was, in fact the president’s desk! Rather than putting it in storage, it seemed more fitting to use it for it’s original purpose. This raises the questions: why don’t we continue to use functionally collected items? Function, it seems, to be in the eye of the collector!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Arrrrrr you ready for a recap?

Is October really over?! I apologize for my lack of blogging over the last few weeks. The Old Capitol Museum has been quite busy this month and I have neglected to report about its happenings. So let’s get started!



I will start with my most recent visit to the museum for the Campus Creepy Crawl. Every year during Halloween weekend the Pentacrest Museums deck their sites out each with a theme to celebrate the spirit of Halloween. The Old Capitol Museum decided on a Pirate theme and let me just say, they went all out! With several hours of intense prepping and decorating (not to mention the long hours of planning that occurred previous to the weekend festivities) the museum transformed into a huge pirate ship, complete with mice running along the floor boards, anchors, masts and several pirate clad volunteers passing out candy and putting on plays and treasure hunts. It was amazing to see the transformation! It was also exciting to so many families come out for the event. Some of the children dressed up as pirates, too! My favorite part of the event was the Treasure Hunt, led by student volunteers. They did a great job getting the children excited about roaming the museum for “treasure”!







One thing that drew more visitors to the Old Capitol Museum was the surprising presence of the Muscatine River Monster. It looked particularly enticing to see at night. I love the idea of combining art, legend and history in the same place because, sometimes, it’s hard to tell them apart!