Exhibit closes, yet lives on
After a successful six-week run in Marlinton, "The Way We Worked" traveling Smithsonian Institution came to a close Sunday, but pieces of it will be on exhibit in Pocahontas County well past October.
"The Way We Worked," adapted from an original exhibition developed by the National Archives, explores how work became such a central element in American culture by tracing the many changes that affected the workforce and work environments over the past 150 years.
From its West Virginia debut in the Marlinton Municipal Building auditorium, the exhibit travels next to Weirton, followed by stops in Morgantown, Lewisburg, Point Pleasant and Elkins.
But as the exhibit continues its tour of the Mountain State, pieces that were developed by local volunteers are finding new life here in Pocahontas County.
The companion exhibit "Logging in Pocahontas County," developed by the Pocahontas County Historical Society, will move to Linwood Community Library for the winter. The exhibit features four kiosks displaying some 56 photos from the Historical Society archives illustrating the timber industry that shaped the county at the turn of the last century. The photos are accompanied by excerpts from the writings of Pocahontas County authors such as Louise McNeill Pease and Roy Clarkson, who lived through these times,.
After the winter, parts of this exhibit will be adapted for local events, according to exhibit curator and Historical Society Preservation Officer B.J. Gudmundsson. For Hillsboro's Little Levels Heritage Fair in June, Gudmundsson said the exhibit will be adapted to focus on that community's history.
The photo exhibit isn't the only part finding new life after the exhibit. Volunteers constructed a replica of an ark in the parking lot next to the municipal building, bringing to life the makeshift, floating living quarters used by the men who drove logs down the Greenbrier River to the mill in Ronceverte. The ark will soon find its permanent home on the front lawn of the Pocahontas County Historical Society Museum, said Gudmundsson.
In addition to these physical pieces, volunteers presented a series of musical events, readings, film screenings and lectures that took place nearly every Thursday, Friday and Saturday during the six weeks of the exhibit. These events showcased a wide range of local talent.
"I don't ever want to hear anyone in Marlinton complain that there's nothing to do, ever again," Gudmundsson said with a laugh. "Between us, the Opera House and everything else, for the past two months they've had more to do than they could even do. You couldn't do it all."
In particular, Gudmundsson said she was impressed by the literary event presented by the Hillsboro Library Friends at the Opera House to celebrate the work and life of Buckeye native and West Virginia Poet Laureate Louise McNeill Pease.
Gudmundsson also had high praise for Emily Newton's work with Pocahontas County High School students to bring to life the stories from W.E. Blackhurst's novel "Of Men and Mighty Mountain." The reader's theatre presentation is already finding new performance opportunities at Cass and in Pocahontas County Schools.
All of the events were filmed, and Gudmundsson said the Historical Society intends to put the videos on its website and in Pocahontas County libraries.
Between the evening events and hosts who worked a the exhibit, more than 30 people and several organizations lent their time and energy to the project.
"To get all these people involved, contributing and doing something-I think this was a community builder," said Gudmundsson. "I think this was a great thing for this community... It was an extraordinary chance for us to show off our history. It was a really nice opportunity to show off Marlinton."
"I think the community has done a great thing here," she added.
Nearly 3,000 people visited the exhibit or attended the evening events. Many of those visitors-roughly every two out of three-came from outside Pocahontas County, said Gudmundsson. From a quick look at the guest register at the exhibit, Gudmundsson said neighboring Virginia was well-represented, with visitors from the Richmond and Roanoke areas, as well as Bath and Highland counties. One of the handful of student groups to visit was a Girl Scout troop from Covington, Virginia.
The historical photographs also caught the attention of a photography class from the Summersville campus of New River Community and Technical College, said Gudmundsson.
Gudmundsson's only disappointment is that there weren't more than a handful of student groups that came to see the Smithsonian Institution exhibit and photographs of local history during its six-week run in Marlinton.
Low student turnout notwithstanding, Gudmundsson said the experience and positive reception from the community will likely lead to more locally themed historical exhibits from the Historical Society. The preservation officer said she was recently reviewing materials about the Civilian Conservation Corps from Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park Superintendent Mike Smith.
"I think this increased awareness of what we're doing for historic preservation, with our archives and everything else," she said. "It's an example of the richness that we have and getting it out there where people can see it."
And once people see it, they start to talk.
"The look and they talk together," she said. "It's not just about looking at pictures; it's about people conversing and learning together."