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Share Your Voice: Hudson

St. Croix Valley residents discuss plans for a new Wisconsin history museum

Share Your Voice: Hudson | Wisconsin Historical Society

 

A man offers his thoughts during the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session May 9, 2019 at the Phipps Center for the Arts in Hudson.

A guest offers his thoughts during the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session May 9, 2019 at the Phipps Center for the Arts in Hudson.

Story and photos by Dean Witter
Wisconsin Historical Foundation

HUDSON — With bright rays of sunshine glistening off the St. Croix River and the suburban sprawl of Minnesota’s Twin Cities just across the bridge, the city of Hudson has enjoyed a long and diversified history, with water, immigration and interstate commerce at its core.

So the Phipps Center for the Arts, with the flowing St. Croix across the street, was an ideal venue for the Wisconsin Historical Society to hold its “Share Your Voice” new museum listening session on May 9, 2019.

The event was among more than 40 the Society is conducting across the state, including with all 12 American Indian nations of Wisconsin, as it gathers feedback on early exhibit design concepts and ideas for a new Wisconsin history museum it is planning to build in place of the current aging and undersized Wisconsin Historical Museum on Wisconsin’s Capitol Square in Madison. 

EnlargeLaVonne McCombie, left, and Wayne Haut, co-presidents of the St Croix County Historical Society welcome guests to the "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session at the Phipps Center for the Arts in Hudson.

LaVonne McCombie, left, and Wayne Haut, co-presidents of the St Croix County Historical Society welcome guests to the "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session at the Phipps Center for the Arts in Hudson. Their organization co-hosted the event with the Wisconsin Historical Society.

LaVonne McCombie and Wayne Haut, co-presidents of the St Croix County Historical Society, which co-hosted the event, welcomed guests to the session.  McCombie shared details of the opening of the Octagon House Museum in Hudson and acknowledged Octagon House Museum Director Leila Albert in the audience.

They then introduced Matt Blessing, the State Archivist and Director of Library, Archives and Museum Collections for the Wisconsin Historical Society. He offered an overview of the new museum project and the “Share Your Voice” statewide engagement tour, which began in October 2018 in Superior and, by the time it concludes in July, will have visited all corners of Wisconsin, from Hayward to Wausau to Racine and from Bayfield to Green Bay to Janesville to La Crosse.

Blessing also spoke of the value of the Society’s Area Research Centers around the state and the world-renowned collections held by the Society, but he emphasized how the new museum project is the biggest undertaking in the Society’s 173-year history and that this “Share Your Voice” engagement effort is critical to its success.

“These sessions are very important to us,” he said. “We’ve made preliminary sketches and ideas for storylines, and we’re testing them out (at these events). We want your input.” 

EnlargeMatt Blessing, State Archivist and Director of Library, Archives and Museum Collections for the Wisconsin Historical Society, welcomes guests to the Society's "Share Your Voice" listening session in Hudson. "We want your input," Blessing said.

Matt Blessing, State Archivist and Director of Library, Archives and Museum Collections for the Wisconsin Historical Society, welcomes guests to the Society's "Share Your Voice" listening session in Hudson. "We want your input," Blessing said. "... This is a big adventure for us. We have never built a museum from scratch. And visiting all corners of the state is central to this process.”

We want to know, Blessing added, “is this appealing or is it not, because this is a big adventure for us. We have never built a museum from scratch. And visiting all corners of the state is central to this process.”

Blessing, who oversees collections dating to the 16th century, is excited about the prospect of them being more available to the public in a new museum.

“I’m particularly energized about this project because it will be a state museum that draws upon the Historical Society’s library, archives and collections in telling Wisconsin’s story through the national lens,” Blessing said, “… putting it in the context of America’s story.”

Guests enjoyed an opportunity to view some examples of that concept up close before the session, when Blessing and Simone Munson, the Collection Development Coordinator for the Society’s Library & Archives, greeted them at tables displaying historic artifacts from the collections that are rarely on public display due to their need for proper environmental conditions for preservation (which will be available in a state-of-the-art museum). 

EnlargeSimone Munson, Collection Development Coordinator for the Wisconsin Historical Society, tells guests about a shawl worn by Abraham Lincoln, one of several rare objects brought to the "Share Your Voice" listening session in Hudson.

Simone Munson, Collection Development Coordinator for the Wisconsin Historical Society's Library & Archives, shares details with guests about a shawl worn by Abraham Lincoln, one of several rare objects that the Society collections team brought to the "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session in Hudson on May 9, 2019.

The items included:

* A sweater worn by a Holocaust survivor from Poland while he was a prisoner at the Auschwitz concentration camp for three years (he eventually became a UW-Madison professor);

* A shawl worn by Abraham Lincoln en route from Springfield, Ill., to Washington for his Inaugural address;

* A rock and threatening note from the Ku Klux Klan thrown through the window of African American civil rights activist Daisy Bates during the 1957 Little Rock Nine high school desegregation crisis in Arkansas;

* A map from 1814 of the Territory that became Wisconsin and Minnesota; and

* A series of the drawings by James F. Wilkins, created on his journey on the Overland Trail from Missouri to California during the Gold Rush of 1849.

Viewing the collections set the stage for the session to come.

Blessing then introduced a video about the project and the museum’s “What Makes Wisconsin, Wisconsin?” overall storytelling theme, after which he introduced Janet Seymour, the Society’s Interim Director of Outreach, to lead the first workshop activity. 

EnlargeMatt Blessing, State Archivist and Director of Library, Archives and Museum Collections for the Wisconsin Historical Society, tells guests about a rare collections item: A sweater worn by a Holocaust survivor while he was a prisoner in Auschwitz.

Matt Blessing, State Archivist and Director of Library, Archives and Museum Collections for the Wisconsin Historical Society, tells guests about one of the rare collections items brought to the "Share Your Voice" session in Hudson: A sweater worn by a Holocaust survivor while he was a prisoner in Auschwitz.

Guests were asked to identify things about the area that they feel should be shared with visitors to the new museum. People, places and things that make Hudson and the St. Croix Valley what it is and contribute to “What Makes Wisconsin, Wisconsin.”

People mentioned the St. Croix River, the coulees, dairy farming, limestone quarries, rock formations, immigration, state parks, logging and, of course, the area’s proximity to Minnesota just across the bridge.

“The Twin Cities is the second largest metropolitan in the Midwest, and Hudson is part of that metro area,” said a woman. “Whenever someone asks me where I’m from, I say I’m from the Minneapolis-St Paul area, because no one knows where Hudson is. We receive no Wisconsin news, everything here is from Minnesota.”

Burt Witthuhn mentioned the influence of immigration on the area and the many cultural heritages that make up the area, including Native Peoples from the American Indian nations of Wisconsin.

“Believe it or not, we’re a border state,” he said. “Out of the 50 states … in a world that is looking at immigration, we have one of the longest boundaries. … And I’m not interested in building a wall on this part of the boundary. What we need to think about (is), do we really believe our neighbors are important to us, and how are we important to them.” 

EnlargeJanet Seymour, the Wisconsin Historical Society’s Interim Director of Outreach, leads the first workshop activity at the "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session in Hudson.

Janet Seymour, the Wisconsin Historical Society’s Interim Director of Outreach, leads the first workshop activity at the "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session in Hudson, during which guests talked about their favorite things about Wisconsin, and the St. Croix area in particular, that should be included in the storytelling of a new state history museum.

Seymour then welcomed Christian Øverland, the Ruth & Hartley Barker Director of the Wisconsin Historical Society, to lead the remainder of the session. Øverland had just arrived after attending all-day meetings in Madison with the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee.

He opened with a hearty welcome and shared his enthusiasm for the area, which he knew well and visited frequently in his childhood while growing up just across the border in the Minneapolis area.

“This is very special for me to be here,” he said. “I spent a lot of time here in my youth, along the St Croix. Taylors Falls all the way down to the Mississippi, in areas like River Falls. Horseback riding, hiking, swimming across the river, too, with my brother.”

“I always thought growing up, this area was like Alsace-Lorraine,” Øverland continued. “We go back and forth across the river and we share a lot, a lot of history.”

Before beginning the next activity, during which guests reviewed new museum concept exhibit design renderings, Øverland answered several questions from guests who hadn’t heard about the project and were unfamiliar with its details.

He explained where the current Wisconsin Historical Museum is located across the street from the Capitol in Madison, how it is a former hardware store that is aging, difficult to maintain and lacks the space and environmental conditions necessary to display the largest, most impressive and oldest items in the collections of the Society, which began gathering North American history artifacts when it was formed in 1846, two years before Wisconsin statehood.

The new museum, Øverland explained, would replace the current museum and significantly expand its footprint thanks to a partnership with private developers who own surrounding buildings. It would include several levels of underground parking, too.

Øverland also explained the difference between his organization and the Minnesota Historical Society, which many people were most familiar with since it’s located across the bridge in St. Paul. While the 20-year-old Minnesota History Center is the site of that Society’s museum, it is also home of its archives and research library, which limits the amount of museum space available.

The Wisconsin Historical Society’s new museum project, however, would be the home of the new museum only, as the Society has its headquarters, archives and library further down State Street in a building that opened in 1900 on the UW-Madison campus. Wisconsin also has a new, state-of-the-art $46.7 million State Archive Preservation Facility several blocks from the Capitol Square, which is where the Society’s world-renowned collections have been moved over the past year and where they are now safe from environmental hazards in the 1900 building and are better organized and easier to access for display in a future museum.

A new, modern museum is the next step in the development of a 21st Century Wisconsin Historical Society, Øverland explained, because the great objects, artifacts and documents will finally be able to be displayed — “democratized,” Øverland said — for the public to enjoy.

“We are a growing organization for Wisconsin,” Øverland said.

A guest commented on the Society’s “brilliant” satellite archival system (ARCs) and wondered if any of the locations across the state would be closed or their collections moved to Madison. Øverland assured her that the ARC system will remain, and could even expand thanks to the new museum, the preservation facility, and the desire to democratize collections.

Then it was time to review several renderings, which were created by Gallagher & Associates, the Washington-based and internationally renowned museum exhibit design firm hired by the Society.

“A history museum is a portal to the whole of the Wisconsin Historical Society, a new way of learning, a new of engaging, a new way of having fun with history,” Øverland said.

One of the renderings depicted an Introduction and Orientation Area, which will welcome museum guests with a giant digital wall that could show dozens of photos or perhaps video.

Another rendering showed how the area could be transformed into a program area that could digitally connect cities (or classrooms) across the state with a program being held at the museum or elsewhere. In the example, underwater archaeologists from the Society broadcast from a shipwreck on the bottom of one of the Great Lakes and take questions from guests gathered at cities across the state.

Some guests felt it could be too overwhelming for visitors, but Beth Zaspel liked it and thought it would appeal to younger visitors and could be flexible, too, with fewer images.

“With different screens, you can adjust for your audience,” she said. “With the younger crowd, they are used to having 16 screens open… they can handle what I would consider the chaos. On the other hand, you can have a different look, softer colors, more white space and you can focus on the screens you want.”

JoAnn Schwenk Carlson expected to see more actual artifacts in the renderings and wondered if they would be prominently featured.

“If this is 1/50th (of the museum, as Øverland explained), what is the other 49,” Carlson asked. “Will there be traditional displays with collections and will it be artifact based?”

“Yes,” Øverland assured the audience. “We haven’t designed it yet. This is just the beginning and some ideas for you to think about.”

John Bates talked about difficulty hearing tours on tape at other museums and wondered if the new museum would accommodate handicap issues. Øverland talked about a “loop” switch on most hearing aids that allow guests who wear hearing aids to tune in to museum broadcasts. He said the new museum would include that technology, as well as other measures to accommodate all guests with disabilities.

“I have a son that can’t hear too well,” Øverland said, “so it’s personal to me as well.”

A rendering of a potential art installation featuring a giant cow made up of artifacts from all 72 counties drew very positive reactions, whereas responses at many other listening sessions were very mixed.

“Look at this, people like the cow!” Øverland said with a laugh.

“People are going to look for their community, but they’ll look for everyone else’s things, too,” Zaspel said. “It’s not just about one community. It represents Wisconsin. And I like 'world’s biggest' things and travel destinations."

“That’s a great idea!” Øverland said. “Whatever this thing is, it needs to be the world’s biggest. We’re known for that, right? … Like the fiberglass mold yard that makes that kind of stuff, in Sparta.” 

A rendering of a Supper Club Experience drew mixed reviews, with one person calling it “hokey,” but another saying many things about Wisconsin are hokey.

They did like the idea of a demonstration kitchen, as well as a place for guests to eat.

“You need a restaurant. But no lutefisk!” Bates said, leading to laughs from the crowd.

The Laboratory of Democracy rendering, featuring a window view of the Capitol and digital displays from the Society’s historic newspaper collection — which is the second largest in the nation to the Library of Congress — was positively received.

“It’s needed,” a woman said. “There are a lot of people who don’t understand civics.”

“Good point,” Øverland said. “History can inform our citizenry, right?”

“I think we’re going need it,” added another woman, “lest some of the things we’ve accomplished get forgotten.”

Following discussion of the renderings, Øverland asked guests to share their favorite museum experiences.

Since most people in attendance said they had visited the nearby Minnesota History Center, two of its features were mentioned as favorites: An exhibit in which guests sit in a recreation of a darkened basement and experience taking shelter during a tornado warning (via lighting & sound effects) while listening to radio broadcasts that aired during historic 1965 tornados that devastated the town of Fridley, Minn.

“It’s like you’re in a tornado,” a woman said.

Another woman mentioned Minnesota’s “If These Walls Could Talk,” exhibit, which traces dozens of families that lived at the same Minneapolis address over decades.

“You have European grandmas talking about making spaghetti and then the next family is a Hmong family,” she said. “It’s pretty powerful.”

Others favorite experiences included holograms at the Lincoln Museum in Springfield, Ill., dioramas at the University of Minnesota’s Bell Museum, and an exhibit on “Frankenstein” author Mary Shelly at the Bakken Museum in Minneapolis.

“I didn’t know much about (Shelly),” a guest said, “and I left wanting to know more.”

The best experiences personalize history and reveal the people behind objects and artifacts, a woman said.

“It’s the stories,” she said. “You can see a uniform from World War I, but you read something about that person and it’s the story that brings it alive.”

 

Suggestions made on Post-It notes during the May 9, 2019 "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session were turned into this word cloud, with the most suggested words in the biggest type.


Hudson "Share Your Voice" Word Cloud

Suggestions made on Post-It notes during the May 9, 2019 "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session were turned into this word cloud, with the most suggested words in the biggest type.

Photos from the Hudson "Share Your Voice" session

Leila Albert, left, and John Bates listen to a discussion about new museum early concept design renderings, which were provided in a packet at the "Share Your Voice" listening session on May 9, 2019 in Hudson.

Leila Albert, left, and John Bates listen to a discussion about new museum early concept design renderings, which were provided in a packet at the "Share Your Voice" listening session on May 9, 2019 in Hudson. Albert is the Director of the Octagon House Museum in Hudson.

A guest emphasizes her point during an activity at the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session May 9, 2019 in Hudson.

A guest emphasizes her point during an activity at the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session May 9, 2019 in Hudson.

A woman shares a comment during the May 9, 2019 "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session at the Phipps Center for the Arts in Hudson.

A woman shares a comment during the May 9, 2019 "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session at the Phipps Center for the Arts in Hudson.

A woman enjoys a laugh during a discussion of favorite museum experiences at the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session May 9, 2019 in Hudson.

A woman enjoys a laugh during a discussion of favorite museum experiences at the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session May 9, 2019 in Hudson.

A guest emphasizes his point while commenting at the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session May 9, 2019 in Hudson.

A guest emphasizes his point while commenting at the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session May 9, 2019 in Hudson.

Guests chat with each other during the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session May 9, 2019 at the Phipps Center for the Arts in Hudson.

Wayne Haut chats with LaVonne McCombie during the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session May 9, 2019 at the Phipps Center for the Arts in Hudson.

A woman shares a comment during the May 9, 2019 "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session in Hudson.

A woman shares a comment during the May 9, 2019 "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session in Hudson.

Guests enjoy a laugh while discussing ideas during the Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session May 9, 2019 in Hudson.

Richard and Lynn Thompson enjoy a laugh while discussing ideas during the Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session May 9, 2019 in Hudson.

A guest writes comments about new museum concept exhibit design renderings during the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" listening session in Hudson.

A guest writes comments about new museum concept exhibit design renderings during the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" listening session in Hudson.

A guest shares her thoughts about exhibits and storytelling in a planned new state history museum during the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" listening session May 9, 2019 in Hudson.

A guest shares her thoughts about exhibits and storytelling in a planned new state history museum during the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" listening session May 9, 2019 in Hudson. 

JoAnn Carlson enjoys a laugh during the "Share Your Voice" session in Hudson.

JoAnn Schwenk Carlson enjoys a laugh during the "Share Your Voice" session in Hudson.

Heidi Leeson smiles during a conversation about favorite museum experiences at the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session in Hudson on May 9, 2019.

Heidi Leeson smiles during a conversation about favorite museum experiences at the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session in Hudson on May 9, 2019.

Matt Blessing, State Archivist and Director of Library, Archives and Museum Collections for the Wisconsin Historical Society, shows John Thomas and JoAnn Schwenk Carlson a map from 1814 of the U.S. Territory that became Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Matt Blessing, State Archivist and Director of Library, Archives and Museum Collections for the Wisconsin Historical Society, shows John Thomas and JoAnn Schwenk Carlson a map from 1814 of the U.S. Territory that became Wisconsin and Minnesota. It was one of several rare objects from the Society's collections that were brought to Hudson for the "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session.

JoAnn Hallquist, middle, and Heidi Leeson, right, chat with Amy Norlin, Operations Program Associate with the Wisconsin Historical Society, after arriving at the "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session May 9, 2019 in Hudson.

LaVonne McCombie, middle, and Heidi Leeson, right, chat with Amy Norlin, Operations Program Associate with the Wisconsin Historical Society, after arriving at the "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session May 9, 2019 in Hudson.

Simone Munson, Collections Director of the Wisconsin Historical Society, chats with Brent Peterson, director of Minnesota's Washington County Historical Society, as he examines a shawl worn by Abraham Lincoln.

Simone Munson, Collection Development Coordinator for the Wisconsin Historical Society, chats with Brent Peterson, director of Minnesota's Washington County Historical Society, as he examines a shawl worn by Abraham Lincoln that was brought from the Wisconsin Historical Society's collections for the "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session in Hudson.