At the Sauk County Historical Museum: "Through a Child’s Eyes" Growing Up in Sauk County, 1870-1920," is a super-condensed look at a pivotal half-century of local history. It attempts to impart to the visitor (in an interesting, logical, and concise manner) fifty years of history as experienced by the county’s youngest residents.
Like any historical topic, this theme has unlimited research potential and infinite educational merit, in combination with decidedly limited and definite restrictions on available physical space and production time.
So, how does one decide what voices should be heard? Which personal stories should be shared? What basic historical information should be included? As curator of collections and exhibits, these are all issues that I must take into consideration when planning a new display.
A first logical step in exhibit planning at a museum is to take an assessment of what related material and objects your collection holds; what stories can you sufficiently tell with what you have on hand? Public survey after public survey reiterates that genuine artifacts remain our most powerful and tangible connection to the past. Words are not enough; people want to see the STUFF.
A brief survey of the Society’s collections revealed that although we are definitely slim in child-related artifacts (especially those dating from the nineteenth century and earlier), those we do have are fairly broad in scope. From detailed doll buggies, to a variety of exquisitely made christening gowns, to a country-school desk, I was excited by the potential our collections held.
From here, I had to then decide what themes to cover. Visitors to the "Through a Child’s Eyes Exhibit" will encounter my interpretation of a "typical" childhood in Sauk County. Three major components, representing the most important aspects of childhood, are covered: school, work, and play. The exhibit showcases rare and irreplaceable artifacts underpinned by a framework of historical research—all of this further augmented by the addition of fascinating personal vignettes and historic photographs of Sauk County residents.
Because of Sauk County’s rural beginnings, a focus is given to the one-room country school experience. Museum guests here have the opportunity to view a reconstruction of such a classroom, complete with a well-worn wooden desk, dinner pail, slate, and even the ever-present George Washington portrait. Another portion of the exhibit highlights the ways in which work and play overlap. Both the young and the young at heart will enjoy the toys and other artifacts here displayed, including a set of lead soldiers, an early nineteenth century sampler, and building blocks used by a young Louis Claude.