Martha’s Vineyard Museum executive director Keith Gorman recently received good news from the National Endowment for the Humanities — the museum has been awarded its second National Endowment for the Humanities grant this year, this one in support of the development of the theme and content in the museum’s future permanent exhibit in its future museum facility.
Enchanted Isle — The Story of Martha’s Vineyard: Land, Sea and People is the project title, and describes the overarching goal to tell the story of the Island’s history from 11,000 years ago through the present. This is the most involved exhibit planning project the museum has ever undertaken. It encompasses the entire history of the Island and will be presented as a single permanent exhibit and the focal point of the museum’s future exhibit space.
The $39,903 grant will provide for 13 consultants to participate in the process beginning in October 2008 through 2009. Among them are Ellen Weiss, professor at Tulane University’s School of Architecture and the author of City in the Woods, an architectural study of the Oak Bluffs Camp Ground. Author Joan Druett, a whaling historian from New Zealand who wrote a history of women aboard whaleships, will consult, as will Dr. John Bockstoce, former curator of Ethnology at the New Bedford Whaling Museum and an eminent scholar of Arctic Whaling and the Alaskan Inupiat peoples. Tobias Vanderhoop, Wampanoag tribal member and the tribe’s former education director, will join the planning team. These and experts in the fields of education, natural history, African-American history, Wampanoag, Portuguese and Brazilian history and culture among others, will help in the development of this $100,000 project.
The consultants will spend time on the Vineyard this winter, meeting with curator Dana Street, James Richardson, retired curator of anthropology from the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh and a member of the museum’s board of directors, and other museum staffers to explore and define the theme and content for the central exhibit.
A series of focus groups and community forums will be held in conjunction with the consultant team’s work to provide insight and guidance on how to best tell each chapter of the Island’s unique and rich history.
Every year the staff at the museum plans exhibits to tell the story of the Vineyard, but these are discrete and often built on a single theme. “It is daunting to tackle the entire history of the Vineyard and attempt to present it in an engaging and exciting way that people can relate to. We have an incredible collection and an outstanding team of staff and consultants that will come together to tell this amazing story,” said Ms. Street in a prepared statement.
The first NEH grant was a two-year, $208,550 grant to fund the museum’s Laura Jernegan: Girl on A Whaleship project. The project has been designated an NEH We the People project, an initiative to encourage and strengthen the teaching, study and understanding of American history and culture through support of projects that explore significant events and themes in our nation’s history. The grant will pay for research, writing, Web design, artwork and the digitization of artifacts including the Laura Jernegan diary, logbook excerpts, letters, whaling tools, and scrimshaw. With the journal serving as centerpiece, this virtual exhibit will offer a content rich environment for the public, especially families and children, to learn about the New England whaling industry, its history, role in the development of our region, impact on the national economy, the ethnic diversity of its participants, the ramifications of whaling worldwide, and its place in literature and the arts.