Exhibits – 40 Years of Chaska’s Own Museum
“It’s Alive!” is a line of dialogue from movies depicting Mary Shelley’s book about the constructing of a creature from inanimate parts. Bringing Chaska’s history to life by creating a major exhibit at the Chaska Historical Center is also a monstrous effort, but mostly it is a labor of love. Exhibits started in 1981 with a display of archived photographs at River City Days, the Historical Society leader and volunteers have created multi-faceted collections of articles, photos, artwork, and stories that focus attention on significant moments and routine happenings in our community. This year, Lisa Oberski, the Historical Society Director, has the objective to create a display that immerses visitors in an experience that highlights the reasons for people to choose Chaska as a place to be. Its theme is “Why Chaska?”
How will that experience be brought to life?
The topic for each major exhibit is chosen based on several factors and conditions.
· Is there an anniversary that should be highlighted? (Chaska’s sesquicentennial, 2001)
· Does the Society have adequate resources? (Uniforms on Parade, 2010)
· Was there an event that should be remembered? (Dealing with Disasters, 2011)
· Can most of our community relate to the topic? (Chaska Weddings, 2016)
Once a focus has been chosen, the search for articles and content begins. The continually-expanding index of artifacts held by History Center is the first reference. Then materials from personal collections, museums and other sources are investigated and gathered. Individual and organizational contributions provide the marvelous details placed in the display cabinets, worn by mannequins, or turned into posters. Naturally, photographs from the Society’s archives are used to create visual windows into Chaska’s past. Newspaper articles and oral histories provided by local Chaskans add another dimension to the exposition.
According to Lisa, once materials have been gathered or potential content has been identified, the development team has to decide what does and doesn’t go into the display. To illustrate that dilemma, Lisa recalled an exercise she assigned her 3rd grade students: from a collection of 50 buttons, select 20 that are the best. Should choices be made on their size? Their color? Their shape? Their pervasiveness? Or where they were made? Do you focus on the typical or atypical?
The exhibit “Why Chaska?” will require all those decisions and preparatory activities. Lisa’s objective is to identify the reasons individuals and businesses have chosen Chaska as the place to live, play, work, retire or raise their children. Other questions that might be explored include:
· How did this geography determine its selection by Native Americans?
· What are Chaska’s characteristics that make it attractive to businesses and development?
· What process occurred to bring a foreign immigrant here in 1850, 1970 or in 2000?
The Society’s Board of Directors and volunteers will soon begin reviewing the project’s vision, resources and capabilities. Enlisting support and contributions from residents, then sorting and choosing the best “buttons” will continue through the spring.
Opening of the “Why Chaska?” exhibit will coincide with the annual River City Days celebration in July.
By Neil Wingert for the Chaska Historical Society