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Q & A – Your Museum Exhibit and Its Theme
By C.V. Lee
June 17, 2022

I can remember as a child the excitement and awe of walking through the King Tut exhibit. It gave me a chance to peer into the life and death of an Egyptian pharaoh. Many decades (more than I care to admit) have passed since that day, but I still remember some of those amazing treasures. So I asked some of our lanterns to share their ideas for a dream museum exhibit.

Rebecca D’Harlingue would combine the art of the paintbrush with the art of the quill.

Every year the De Young Art Museum in San Francisco has an exhibit called Bouquets to Art, for which floral designers are invited to create a companion piece for a work of art. I love these pairings, and I would do something similar in my dream museum exhibit by pairing books with the art works that inspired them. Miraculously, I would be able to get any painting I wanted for my exhibit.

You would enter the room and see the paintings, with a copy of the books next to them. The gorgeous Vermeer for The Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier would catch your eye, along with the painting of Mary Cassatt’s sister for Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper by Harriet Scott Chessman. The huge Sargent painting for The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit by Sara Loyster would dominate one wall, and the lovely Degas painting of his cousin would be paired with Estelle by Linda Stewart Henley.

Since this is all fantasy anyway, we could have paintings that exist only in the context of a novel, such as The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, or even The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, speeding up its changes over time. There could also be works of an artist who is the subject of a novel, such as Irving Stone’s Lust for Life about Van Gogh. To launch the exhibit, there would even be a performance of Sondheim’s musical play Sunday in the Park with George to go with the famous pointillist painting by Seurat. This is all just a tiny sample. Imagine the possibilities!

 Anne Beggs would offer us a chance to immerse ourselves in artifacts from the middle ages.

Anyone else think the Louvre would make a great bed and breakfast? I would LOVE to wake up there, stroll the corridors and chambers in my slippers sipping a cup of coffee. No rush, no worries. Just my coffee with the masters. Enough about that fantasy, I am planning my own museum exhibit. Hell, maybe it should be a B&B.

If I were to request a Museum Exhibit I would want a traditional walk through with items on display, and I would want an interactive Exploratorium with a living museum, like Plymouth Plantation or Williamsburg, but of a Medieval or Celtic village.

Of course, the traditional museum would have artwork, altar pieces, triptychs, and psalters. I doubt the Book of Kells would be loaned out, but a knock-off we could look at would be great. Stonework and carvings. We must have some weaponry: Archery, swords, daggers, armor and more. Any remaining artifacts or belongings of Strongbow or his wife Aoife?

A section on clothing and garment making. Distaffs, spindles and some true, remaining garments. Rope, girdles, shoes and hose. Of course, any samples of dye making, and the tools used. Artifacts from the peat bogs?

Besides the fun of walking about and conversing with the villagers, seeing how they live their lives, from brewing, fermenting, the communal baking silo/ovens and the outer farming, it would be fun to have the hands-on opportunity to spin, make dye (if it isn’t too toxic) and dress up. Felting anyone?

What new findings and artifacts do we have of the unheard voices? So many of us write of those people. What new take or insight on artifacts and writings might this reflect ? I would love to see that.

Ana Brazil would share her love for an amazing time in the world of entertainment.

Comedienne Fanny Brice! Blues singer Bessie Smith! Female impersonator Julian Eltinge! Dancers Vernon and Irene Castle! Comedian Bert Williams!

 If any of these performers gets your heart racing, I’m guessing it’s because, like me, you’re a fan of vaudeville—the most popular entertainment in Turn-of-the-19th-Century America.

 For the uninitiated, vaudeville is basically two or three hours of entertainment featuring as diverse a group of entertainers as possible: singers; dancers; ventriloquists; high-wire acts; dancing dogs; jugglers; bicycle racers; jazz quartets. (If you what a longer explanation, check out this intro from the New York Public Library).

My exhibit would celebrate a small part of vaudeville: the life and times of singer Elsie Clark, the blues singer who became the inspiration for the heroine of my latest (#amquerying) historical mystery.

While the history of vaudeville is included in museum exhibits worldwide (because it wasn’t just an American entertainment) there is very little information anywhere about Elsie Clark. And since I inherited Elsie’s photographs, scrapbooks, memorabilia, and recordings, I’m guessing that I know more about her than anyone else does these days.

 My exhibit would show—through photos, postcards between friends, newspaper clippings, my own newspaper research, very fragile theatre programs (after all, they were only meant to last a week), and Elsie’s recordings—how she came to America from Australia, met the love-of-her-life Nelson Story on a ship and quickly married him, played the Orpheum and Pantages Circuits in America and Canada, and when motion pictures stole the vaudeville audience, how Elsie and Nelson quit the business and settled in southern California. Retired from vaudeville, Nelson became a moving picture extra and he and Elsie both became friends of celebrities of the day like Stan Laurel and Hardy.

 Elsie had a big, exciting life—entertaining thousands of people in some of the most beautiful vaudeville theatres in America; traveling all across America; working daily on her craft with the man she loved; and, finally living amongst some of the fascinating characters of pre-World War II Hollywood.

 Want to see what I’d put in my Elsie Clark exhibit? Check out my website for Elsie Clark, Vaudevillian Extraordinaire for a few examples!

C.V. Lee envisions a living museum.

Kitchen at Dover Castle

When my son was in the 5th grade, he had a field trip on a ship. All the students were assigned jobs, from working as the cook, to scrubbing decks, to waking up to take the third watch. It was a wonderful chance for them to experience what life onboard a ship at sea.

I write about the medieval era, a time that is highly romanticized from the knights in shining armor, to the fair damsels, the traveling troubadours and romantic poetry. There are so many people that enjoy dressing up and attending a renaissance fair that I am certain they would enjoy spending a day living the real life of a medieval peasant or nobleman.

Kitchen at Dover Castle

Since this is my fantasy museum exhibit, everyone would dress in period clothing and spend at least a day and a night living in a true medieval castle. This would be a chance to experience cooking over the fires, hauling water for bathing, scrubbing stone floors or emptying chamber pots. Another great add, would be learning to use the weapons of the era; from the weapons of the nobility and gentry, i.e. bows, spears, swords, daggers, halberts, and maces, to whatever a peasant could find for defense, i.e. hoes, axe, staves, etc.

The day would end with everyone gathered in the banquet hall, enjoying a medieval feast of various meats, vegetable stews, bread, fruits, cheese and a whole lot of ale. The evening entertainment would include mummers, troubadours and jugglers. Finally the night would end with a lucky few sleeping in the bed(s) and most sleeping on mats on the floor in the great hall.

One thing I learned from traveling to see those medieval castles, was lucky I am to live in the present day, with HVAC, phones, running water, toilets and modern medicine. It is always good to be reminded of how far we have come from those days of old!

C.V. Lee

Written by C.V. Lee

C.V. Lee writes historical biographical fiction featuring forgotten heroes and heroines of the past. She is a member of the Historical Novel Society, Alli, and a founding member of Paper Lantern Writers. You can find her on Facebook @cvlee.histficwriter and on Instagram @cvleewriter.

View CV’s PLW Profile

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