Chesterton Tribune

Jane Walsh-Brown tells favorites in final week as museum curator

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

The Westchester Township History Museum marks its own history for a final week as it bids farewell to its founding curator Jane Walsh-Brown.

Walsh-Brown, who has been curator for over 15 years, created her swan song project entitled “My Favorite Things: A Retirement Exhibit,” which showcases the relics most meaningful to her. The exhibit has been on display since October and will close officially on Dec. 30.

In a career that spans over 35 years, Walsh-Brown took a job as librarian with the Hageman Library branch in 1975 after moving to Northwest Indiana from New York City. Three years after, Walsh-Brown was elevated to assistant director of the Westchester Public Library and will also be retiring that position, effective Dec. 31.

Museum-goers have a limited number of days to see the very best of Walsh-Brown’s preservation work including a “misguided” early vacuum, regional literature on the Indiana Dunes, a farm auction poster collection originally printed by the Chesterton Tribune, portraits and paintings of local figures and a panoramic photo of Chesterton as it was in 1915.

Visitors can also watch a short film made by the Westchester Library on William Murray’s Littleville attraction built in 1937. Walsh-Brown wrote the script for the film, which has now been converted to DVD.

The exhibit also remembers lifelong Chesterton personality and interior designer Ione Harrington by displaying the gown she wore to the second inaugural ball of Richard Nixon in 1973. Close-by is Margaret the Mannequin, a rare child mannequin named after Duneland teacher and local historian Margaret Larson.

Highlighting Walsh-Brown’s top favorites are two textiles, The Burdick Quilt or “signature quilt” and The John Garis Coverlet. The former was created by women of the Burdick Methodist Episcopal Church and embroidered with 347 names as part of a fundraiser in 1896. Museum visitors can look to see if the quilt contains names of their ancestors.

The project also marks the 55th exhibition Walsh-Brown has overseen. She has indexed a list of all her temporary exhibits starting with “Recreation and Celebration” in May 1998. Notable exhibits included “Gizmos and Gadgets: Antique Household Helpers” in 1999; “Through the Lens: Vintage Camera Projectors and Photographs” in 2007; “For the Love of Books: Hard-Binding and Related Book Arts” in 2007; “The Life and Art of Earl H. Reed” in 2009; and “Lost Tourist Attractions of the Dunes” in 2010.

Walsh-Brown’s personal favorite was an exhibit worked on with museum intern Netha Cloeter in the summer of 2006 called “What a Woman Can Do: Women and Work 1870-1930.” The attraction highlighted nine local ladies who were proponents of women making their way into the workplace.

“So often women are left out of history. This exhibit had shown what women did for work in those days and how they made a difference,” she said.

Walsh-Brown is also proud of recently acquiring restored photographs of the George Brown family that hang in the dining room and parlor near the museum’s entranceway.

The “Favorite Things” exhibit also honors the staff, interns and supportive volunteers who have aided Walsh-Brown in her 15-year tenure as curator. Staff photos from the museum’s opening in 1998 to today are stationed next to those who have donated their time to the museum.

Walsh-Brown’s efforts have garnered her a cluster of awards, her most recent recognition being the Hubert Hawkins History Award from the Indiana Historical Society, given to her earlier this month. In September, the Indiana Library Federation board of directors presented Walsh-Brown with their Lifetime Achievement Award.

She is also responsible for developing the Duneland Folk Festival and bandstand evening concert events at Thomas Centennial Park.

“I know a lot of other towns do this too, but it’s still special,” she said.

Walsh-Brown said she is looking forward to taking a few months for herself to be with her husband Jim and other family. Although permanently retiring, she plans to stay attached to the museum by regularly volunteering in the archives of the Westchester Library.

“I’ll always care for what happens to the people here and for the museum. I won’t ever be far away,” she said.

Announced in September, Serena Sutliff will succeed the duties of museum curator beginning Jan. 1. Sutliff graduated with a master’s degree concentrating in museum studies from the University of North Carolina this year and previously served as an intern in the summer of 2010.

Sutliff will curate her first exhibit in February but has not yet announced what the theme will be.

The Thomas Library’s recently hired branch librarian Leea Yelich, who will carry on many educational programs Walsh-Brown started as assistant director. Yelich said she knows she has big shoes to fill but also is excited for the opportunity to create a few programs of her own.

The museum, located at 700 W. Porter Ave., will be open Wednesday through Friday from 1- 5 p.m. and will be closed for New Year’s Eve and New Years Day.

 

 

Posted 12/27/2011