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Young attendee volunteers to be dressed in the authentic uniform of a Civil War soldier at the Barclay Public Library.
Larry Kinsella explains the differences in Native American weaponry as related to the image, Last of the Mohicans at the Barclay Public Library.
Children experience Native American tools up close at the Barclay Public Library.
Camille Born performs “A Dust Bowl Testimony” at the Barclay Public Library.
Behind the Picture: Stories Illustrating Art
Barclay Public Library, Warrensburg, IL
Project Director: Lacey Wright
Target Audience: Family
Library Size: Under 25,000
“In this age of digital overload, when streaming video and high-definition graphics are considered the best way to view entertainment, the classic beauty of art and storytelling are often overlooked. With the help of Picturing America, Barclay Public Library was able to give people the opportunity to slow down, observe and experience some classic forms of entertainment.”
The goal of this program was to reintroduce people to the arts by tying visual art with the spoken word. Using the Picturing America collection as a platform, the Barclay Public Library (BPL) hosted a series of storytelling events and discussions that brought to life the Picturing America artwork depicting America’s history. Professional storytellers presented tales relating to the Civil War, Underground Railroad, Prairie Life and Native American history to intergenerational audiences. Each presentation was then followed by an audience discussion of the selected artwork and corresponding stories.
Use of the Artwork
Picturing American images linking to each storytelling topic were on display with associated artifacts, as well as materials from the library’s collection. Those in attendance listened to stories explaining the history behind the displayed art, and then read fact sheets provided for each piece of artwork used in the series and questions to initiate conversation about those pieces. Specific Picturing America images used during programming were: The Migration of the Negro Panel No. 57, Ladder for Booker T. Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Regiment Memorial, Migrant Mother, and cover illustration for Last of the Mohicans.
Programs and Ideas
“A Rocking Chair and a Trunk”—Targeting families, this program began with the fictional story of an underground railroad station in 1850s Ohio, operated by the Simmons family and their young daughter, Maddie. Performed by storyteller Camille Born and interwoven with African American folk tales, the story painted a vivid setting for the showcased Picturing America artwork, The Migration Series, No. 57 and Ladder for Booker T. Washington. Tying visual art with the spoken word, the story, “A Rocking Chair and a Trunk,” was followed by an audience discussion about how the displayed artwork depicts the struggle of African Americans throughout our country’s history. New materials added to the library’s collection and made available for circulation included the book, Hidden in Plain View: A Secret Story of Quilts and the Underground Railroad and a DVD documentary, Underground Railroad.
“A Civil War Soldier”—This family oriented program explained what a typical day in the life of a common soldier was like during the Civil War. The presentation allowed participants to examine the gear a soldier needed and the uniform he would have worn. The display of period pieces allowed attendees a hands-on experience that easily related to the Robert Shaw Memorial image from the Picturing America collection. The portrait of Abraham Lincoln was also featured. Both pieces were the center of an audience discussion about the Civil War and how much a picture or sculpture can reveal about a certain time period. In relation to this program, several new DVD documentaries were added to the library’s circulating collection, including the title, Full Metal Corset: Secret Soldiers of the Civil War.
“A Dust Bowl Testimony”—In a one-woman performance, storyteller Camille Born became Helen White, a farmer’s wife from the Panhandle of Oklahoma. The audience acted as the Senate committee, listening intently to Mrs. White’s tragic story, and deciding if assistance would be given to the families who suffered this economic disaster. The presentation was followed by a discussion of Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother and other photos from the Depression era. Fact sheets about Lange’s work helped all to realize how valuable photography, which seems to evoke emotion better than other forms of art, is to the documentation of history. A DVD documentary on American photography was added to the library’s collection along with several books, including The Dust Bowl through the Lens: How Photography Revealed and Helped Remedy a National Disaster.
To Woodhendge and Beyond—Through the telling of ancient legend, Marilyn Kinsella answered the question, “How did the ancient people know when to plant corn, perform ceremonies and prepare for the seasons?” Following “The Legend of the Red Cedar,” archeologist Larry Kinsella explained the history behind the Cahokia Mounds’ famous Sun Calendar and showcased some of the primitive building tools the Native American’s used. The facts presented through these presentations were then related to N.C. Wyeth’s cover illustration for The Last of the Mohicans. Questions were brought up about the accuracy of some artwork in illustrating history and also how literature can influence art. Along with others, the book Native American Art and the documentary We Shall Remain were added to the library’s collection to support the topic of this program.
- Hidden in Plain View: A Secret Story of Quilts and the Underground Railroad
- Underground Railroad
- Full Metal Corset: Secret Soldiers of the Civil War
- The Dust Bowl through the Lens
- Native American Art
- We Shall Remain
The Picturing America programs at Barclay Library provided an opportunity for the community to experience the arts in new ways. The combination of storytelling with a backdrop of historical images, created a rich educational experience that left a lasting impression. Many in attendance commented about the powerful message each picture has, and how that message is enhanced when one knows the history of the piece. After each event, attendees were alive with questions and equipped with a better understanding of the highlighted events in America’s history. Surveys conducted at each program revealed that the majority of participants found the programs extremely valuable as a library service and felt their knowledge of the subject matter was increased by the presentations. Every returned survey indicated that the Picturing America programming series was appreciated and participants would attend if similar programs were offered in the future.
As expected, circulation of humanities materials and questions relating to American art and history did increase throughout the course of this project. The new books and DVDs provided by this grant enriched the library’s shelves by replacing worn out materials and providing new educational media. These new materials also provide an avenue for the library to continue feeding our community’s interest in programs relating to America’s history.