Feature Exhibit Car

Opening April 2019 – “Dirty Laundry: Controversial Items in Museums”

Dirty Laundry - Controversial Items in Museums

Admit it—everyone loves a little Dirty Laundry! The Dennison Railroad Depot Museum’s 2019 Feature Exhibition titled “Dirty Laundry: Controversial Items in Museums” will open this Spring. The exhibition is an innovative departure from previous exhibits in that it focuses on a limited collection of objects and provides limited interpretation of the objects for the visitor.

Dirty Laundry will feature objects from the permanent collection of the Dennison Depot, other local museums and historical societies. The objects were chosen to explore specific themes. “What is an object?” asks Jacob Masters, Director of Museums and curator for this exhibition. “Objects themselves are neither positive or negative, they are neutral. However, everyone has a feeling or emotion attached to them. Why? We give objects meaning by projecting our own memories, emotions and experiences onto them. Every one of the objects in this exhibit represents local, state and national pieces of history that at times, have been considered controversial, evoking both positive and negative emotions. We encourage visitors to this exhibition to find their own ways to connect to the objects.”

For many visitors, this will be the first opportunity to see these objects in a museum setting. They correspond closely with what is going on in today’s worlds with the emphasis on such issues as inclusion, race and sexuality. The Museum hopes the exhibit will be used to spark conversation and reflection. Some of the artifacts on display include the following: a Ku Klux Klan Robe and cross, a WWII prophylactic kit and pamphlet on VD, a Nazi German uniform, Nazi and Japanese flags, a photo of Marie Walcamp, Dennison’s famous silent movie star unclothed, two prints from the Currier and Ives “Darktown” Series and the Times Square iconic V-J Victory Kiss photograph.

Artifacts will also be used to illustrate local controversies, such as the creation of Claymont Schools with the exhibition of objects such as the Dennison High School Marching Drum and a Uhrichsville High School Tiger Mascot, and Private Bulldog Bing’s burial in Union Cemetery, which was opposed at the time by veterans.

Traditionally, history museums have exhibited objects to explain a great deal about historical subjects. For this exhibit, rather than explain their significance, the Dennison Depot Museum felt it was important to allow these objects to stand on their own, according to Masters. “There will not be a lot of interpretation in this exhibition. We think the objects can speak for themselves.”

Wendy Zucal, executive director of the Dennison Railroad Depot Museum says, “It’s important to find a safe space to explore controversial subjects. One of the main aspects of this exhibition is to have those tough discussions on these controversial topics in a safe environment. We want all guests to the Museum to remember that these are just objects and remind you to consider their places in their original context.”

Studies show that layers of content serve to desensitize the visitor and don’t allow the objects to stand on their own. The Dennison Depot is using this innovative approach so that the institutional and unbiased voice would not interfere with a visitor’s honest reaction.

“These are hard topics – but they are a large part of society today and cannot be ignored. We look forward to providing this opportunity for visitors to explore their feelings and be thoughtful about the topics. ” Masters says. “We also want to deepen the discussion by asking questions: ‘If you could say something to this object, what would it be?’ or ‘Should museums exhibit controversial artifacts?’ and on a deeper level ‘Should we even collect these artifacts into our collections?’”

The Dennison Depot is working with several leaders in the museum field from the Ohio History Connection, the Columbus Museum of Art and Ohio Museums Association to help in displaying and interpreting the controversial artifacts and topics.

“In the exhibition we are encouraging guests to share their thoughts on walls near the objects that speak to them the most. We will also have a section in the exhibition with chairs set up separately from main part of the gallery to sit, reflect and have discussions on the objects,” says Masters

To encourage dialogue and facilitate the exchange of ideas on these hard topics related to the exhibition, the Dennison Depot is planning programs throughout the year to have a private tour of “Dirty Laundry” and afterwards discuss the topics and artifacts presented. All programs will take place inside the Dennison Railroad Depot Museum.

The exhibit is limited to visitors age 18 or over or those accompanied by an adult. The exhibit will be on view from April 28, 2019 to January 31, 2020.