On banjos and museum education

by Anne Fairchild, Eastern Region Program Manager for the Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites

This past weekend, I took a couple of vacation days to go on a little getaway. Only it wasn’t a getaway, as much as an adventure. And the adventure began over four years ago right here at the Lanier Mansion after I started working for the Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites. 

Dr. Ron Morris, professor of History at Ball State University, received a grant from the U.S. Department of Education to help teachers learn best practices for teaching social studies. A very large part of that is including regular visits to museums and historic sites (like Lanier Mansion) in their own communities and across Indiana.

Since that time, Dr. Morris has helped many of our Historic Sites develop useful tools for educators, going so far as to purchase everyday objects used at the Lanier Mansion for student programs about the Lanier family and their servants. He even helped us write an educational script about a middle-class carpenter who helped build the Lanier Mansion and worked and lived in the same community as the Lanier family. Dr. Morris’ curriculum development class has developed lesson plans for the Lanier home as well as several other state historical sites. His students also created documentaries on the historical and architectural importance of Madison as well as Indiana Mills, New Harmony and a beginning interactive DVD about the Underground Railroad. 

In honor of his work for the Lanier Mansion and other State Historic Sites in our system and around Indiana, Dr. Morris won a Leadership in History Award of Merit from the American Association of State and Local History (AASLH), presented last Friday in Oklahoma City. A couple of us took some personal time to head to Oklahoma City to honor him. The AASLH also recognized the Levi Coffin State Historic Site‘s outstanding volunteers Saundra Jackson, Janice McGuire and the other Levi Coffin House Association volunteers. There was a strong Indiana contingency at the AASLH Awards Dinner.

(L-R) Laura Minzes, Bob McGuire, Janice McGuire, Ron Morris, Saundra Jackson, Anne Fairchild and David Buchanan

Talk about a turn-around trip! It was 15-hour drive with meeting folks in Indy, stops and such. For those of us in the museum education field, it is impossible to not compare other historic sites and attractions to where we work. How can we not secretly feel a little smug when passing the much-touted Missouri Vacuum Cleaner Outlet and Museum? Even on our vacations, I think we tend to pick up good ideas from other places, and feel good about things we think we do better. It is energizing! However, I was glad to get back home.

All in all, I learned how to make Chickasaw Native American style beaded earrings, saw a tremendously beautiful Chihuly glass exhibit at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, visited the haunting Oklahoma City National Memorial commemorating the 1995 attack, talked to someone about finding a reproduction gold $10 coin that Lanier would have taken to Washington, D.C., (visit the site to find out why!), took a canal ride in the old “Bricktown” district, visited the American Banjo Museum and Hall of Fame, and did a lot of walking around. Seriously, did you know about art banjos? With some, it was hard to tell if you should play them or wear them like a tiara with all those encrusted jewels. My favorite banjo paid homage to the carousel horses. I also found a cool historical toy for the Lanier Mansion toy box that I had been seeking. So you see, it always comes back to Lanier!

Thank you Dr. Morris for all you do for the Lanier Mansion and the other Indiana State Historic Sites, and thank you Levi Coffin House Association for all you do for that site and Underground Railroad history in Indiana. We appreciate you!

All photos by Rainette Rowland.

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