Saturday, June 12, 2010

Hometown history.

I like to joke that if you're in my hometown of Worland, Wyoming, you were on your way to Worland, Wyoming.  That's because it's kind of on the road to nowhere.  

I've also recently been critical of Worland.  When I was young, Worland was an interesting place with a thriving main street, cultural opportunities, and all kinds of goings ons.  But in the last decade or two, it seems like Worland has fallen into a slump, with a main street that's almost dead and an attitude among locals that seems to suggest the town has thrown in the towel.  I recently went back to Worland for an event that makes me think there's still hope that the sleepy town may rebound in some interesting ways.

The event was the opening of the new Washakie Museum and Cultural Center. My parents and I attended both the gala event on Friday evening and the open house on Saturday (with the addition of my niece Ivy).  And it was more impressive than I expected.

The facility offers great spaces for events as well as excellent exhibit spaces and is a nice addition to Worland.  The gala was planned and executed well with surprising, upscale catering.  I will say they'll need to work out better sound options for future events.

The permanent exhibition spaces are also executed well thanks to a team of professionals pulled together not only from the Big Horn Basin, but also from Colorado and the East Coast.  There are two specific areas of focus for the permanent exhibits.

The first is focused on The Ancient Basin.  Worland, like much of Wyoming, is home to a lot of fossilized dinosaur remains.  And the new museum uses that treasure to create an interesting natural history space with lots of scary dinosaurs.

The second permanent gallery is focused on The Last West and does an excellent job of recounting local history.  Sometimes in towns as small as Worland, local history can be forgotten.  So it was nice to see exhibits that told stories from the area.  There were many interesting displays from a recreation of the early banking industry to tales of local ranching.  One exhibit made excellent use of HD monitors to create windows that looked out onto the local landscape, complete with old-timey residents.

I also liked some of the more mundane artifacts included in the exhibit like this strange rocket-like object used to scare coyotes away.

This exhibit made me laugh because I'm not sure it qualifies in the category of The Last West.  On the trip to Worland I drove by a number of sheep wagons just like this one that are still in active use.

And the sheep still roam free just like in the background photo above.  There were plenty of sheep to slow the trip back to Salt Lake City.

The museum includes a gallery for temporary exhibits.  And here's where I'm likely to get a little more critical, probably because I spend too much time in art museums.  The opening exhibit titled History Exists Before Your Eyes is an interesting idea.  But the actual show is a disappointment.  The exhibit consisted of photos by local photographers and was supposed to provide a snapshot of Washakie County and the surrounding area as it exists now.  This is a show in desperate need of a curator.  There are far too many photographs on view and many of them are amateurish.  Several actually include the digital time stamps on the prints.  I'm not sure how the photos were selected but it felt like anyone could submit a photo and that every photo submitted is included in the show.  It's too bad because the idea (History Exists Before Your Eyes) is intriguing.  By far, the best photos in the show are David Huber's aerial photographs of the area including one of the museum under construction.  A better way to show that history truly exists before your eyes may have been to turn the entire gallery over to a photographer like Huber and his local, aerial photography.

Future temporary exhibits offer more hope for the museum with a traveling exhibit from the Charles M. Schultz Museum (Peanuts at Bat) and an exhibit entitled America through the CBS Eye.

I can't end this post without a note about the power of philanthropy.  The costs of the new museum as well as an endowment to cover a majority of operating expenses are a gift from the late Newell B. Sargent, a long-time Worland resident. It was money well spent.

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