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
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
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