Features appear in each issue of Pennsylvania Heritage showcasing a variety of subjects from various periods and geographic locations in Pennsylvania.

Part of a museum’s mission is to collect, safeguard, exhibit, and interpret relevant objects and artifacts, and The State Museum of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg fulfills this goal with singular distinction. Since 1905, the institution has preserved vast collections that chronicle the Commonwealth’s history and natural heritage from earth’s beginning to the present (see “Preserving Pieces of Pennsylvania’s Past: An Inside Look at the Building of the Commonwealth’s Collections” by Cathryn J. McElroy, Summer 1984). Today, four floors of exhibits and activities bring this saga to life for visitors. Archaeology and anthropology, native peoples, the legacy of founder William Penn, the Civil War, industry and technology, and so on are examined and interpreted for museum visitors. An accreditation report issued by the prestigious American Association of Museums (AAM) in 1999 recognized the State Museum as “one of the nation’s preeminent institutions of its kind … virtually every area the museum is in full compliance with and exceeds the current standards and practices in the museum profession.” With only nine hundred of the country’s twelve thousand museums qualifying for AAM accreditation, The State Museum of Pennsylvania is among the elite.

Rather than rest on its laurels, The State Museum is challenging itself to go beyond its traditional role, to look at itself not only as a steward of the past but as an advocate for Pennsylvania’s people and, ultimately, its future. “As established community institutions, museums have a responsibility to address social issues,” says museum director Anita D. Blackaby. “We are not only dedicated to collecting and preserving art and artifacts, but most importantly in educating our constituents. Museums are exciting and innovative institutions capable of sharing in the responsibility of supporting the community.”

That philosophy is the impetus behind a newly unveiled exhibit, “aMAZE and BEYOND,” on view through Sunday, June 4, 2000. “AMAZE and BEYOND” tackles tough topics such as conflict, stereotyping, and prejudice, and seeks to enlighten visitors about the importance – in fact, the desirability – of diversity. Its goal is to make people examine how they think, to see how their thought patterns can lead to conflict, and to guide them on the path to tolerance and harmony. Exhibit planners believe that participants will learn to welcome and treasure diversity and become more thoughtful, productive citizens.

The exhibit is presented in the guise of a maze for several reasons – not the least of which is the maze’s enduring popularity. From monarchs’ gardens to children’s puzzle books to cornfields, mazes entertain, fascinate, teach, and delight. In some cultures, a maze symbolizes life’s journey. A maze is also an appropriate metaphor for the complex choices people face in interpersonal relations. Dead ends should not be cause for despair but, instead, provide learning opportunities and the chance to try a different strategy.

Serendipity brought the idea to the attention of the museum’s staff three years ago. “We had worked with community children to redo our yearly exhibit on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,” Blackaby recalls. “We had a reception for the kids and their families. Susan Shapiro, a conflict management consultant, just happened to be in the museum at the time. She came over and said she had always wanted to use a maze to address conflict resolution. We had an initial meeting with Susan, but then we weren’t quite sure how to proceed,” Blackaby continues. “It’s not an object-based exhibit. We knew we would have to step out of our traditional way of doing things. It’s also difficult because it deals with contemporary social issues. There’s no easy mechanism for this.”

The next step was a brainstorming session with staff members representing the education, exhibition, and curatorial departments. “That was a difficult meeting,” says Blackaby. “Some people didn’t understand what we were trying to do, why we were trying to do it, how we could make this work.” Despite some initial resistance, the general response was enthusiastic, During that meeting Nancy Mendes, an exhibit designer, emerged as team leader. She did not work in a vacuum, though. The museum pulled in Lisa Pilsitz and Joan Myhre as consultants to join Shapiro; they organized a twenty-two-person advisory group, all with proven expertise in their fields. “We had teachers, professors, people who work with a variety of communities and populations, a representative from the local newspaper, people in the arts, someone from public television,” remembers Blackaby.

Group members codified their reasons for thinking the exhibit was necessary and useful, explained why The State Museum of Pennsylvania was the right institution to mount it, and planned for ongoing community involvement. “aMAZE and BEYOND” was targeted to school children ages eight through fifteen; because the museum educates in a non-traditional setting and does not have curriculum restraints like schools do, it can reach this population in imaginative ways. In addition, the museum decided to publish an adapted Conflict Management Curriculum for use in schools, centered on the concept of “finding one’s way through the labyrinth of conflict.” Teachers can download the curriculum from the museum’s Web site at no cost. Included in the package is information about the exhibition, recommendations on ways teachers can prepare their classes for their visit to the museum, and a list of suggested follow-up activities.

Traditionally, there had been limited “outside” involvement in creating exhibits, but not so with “aMAZE and BEYOND.” “Public interest was so strong that our early goal of working with the community was easily satisfied,” Blackaby says. “We received support on content, marketing, school involvement, even construction.” The development of the exhibit changed the way museum staff works with the community.

Once the concept was finalized, decisions had to be made about implementation. Approximately twenty-seven hundred square feet of fully accessible pathways and activity rooms were set aside for the self-guided exhibit, which was planned to be a visually stimulating work of art, a learning laboratory, and a meaningful experience, Keeping in mind the exhibit’s goal of addressing the complex issues of stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination, more than twenty interactive activities were designed to help young people understand what these issues mean to them. It’s an opportunity for visitors to learn more about themselves and how their attitudes influence their interactions with others.

The concepts of stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination are not “comfortable” topics, especially in a museum setting. Taking this into account, the exhibit prepares visitors for the nature of the subject matter, and presents many of the activities as games so that these serious, perhaps intimidating, topics can be addressed in a safe, even enjoyable, atmosphere. The activities take place in the heart of the exhibit, a walk-through maze designed by museum staff in consultation with internationally acclaimed artist Adrian Fisher, author of several books on mazes, and well known for his designs of cornfield mazes.

Each stop in “aMAZE and BEYOND” conveys a distinct component of the overall theme. In the “House of Mirrors,” both normal and distortion glass reflects images. Music and labels challenge visitors to think about themselves and others: are the external views of what they see reality? Eight-foot-high tables and two-foot-high chairs in “Big House, Little House,” offer insight into what it’s like to feel really different. In a corridor named “Sticks and Stones,” stereotyping statements are seen and heard; visitors consider the inappropriateness of the statements, and an activity allows them to symbolically dispel these stereotypes. “Spin to Win” and “Mazie’s Diner” address conflicts and possible resolutions. Other activities present the nightly news from a Martian’s perspective; surround visitors with photomurals of children whispering derogatory remarks to evoke a visceral reaction of what it feels like to be on the receiving end of negative comments; and let visitors shred a list of names they’ve been called. An interactive video game show, “Name that Stereotype,” developed by Chicago Children’s Museum, teaches visitors to be aware of the use of blanket statements to classify people.

Throughout the exhibit, visitors will become familiar with “Mazepeople,” a highly diverse group of individuals who are often the antithesis of the way they are likely to be stereotyped. Pictures of these people reveal information about them, helping visitors to understand that first impressions – especially when based on bigotry or close-mindedness – are often harmful and incorrect, In the museum’s loggia, visitors have a chance to try finger and wall mazes, tessellation tables, and “Star 21,” an interactive maze by Adrian Fisher. The art and history of mazes throughout the world is explored through photographs and drawings compiled by Fisher. The gallery concluding the maze celebrates diversity. Visitors become acquainted with “Diversity Heroes,” and are invited to participate in the building of a community quilt. They also receive take-home materials to continue the dialogue initiated in “aMAZE and BEYOND.”

“aMAZE and BEYOND” is the latest in the museum’s series of ongoing and forthcoming programming and improvements that reasserts the facility’s importance and relevance to the Commonwealth’s citizens.

“In surveys, people like the museum’s Mammal Hall the best,” says Anita Blackaby. The perennial favorite, a gallery of thirteen dioramas showcasing the fauna and flora of Pennsylvania, is a significant part of the museum’s history and many people’s memory. “Ours are in terrific shape,” comments Blackaby, taking warranted pride in the vivid, well-lit displays. “About five years ago we undertook a major restoration.” Large windows extend almost to the floor, making the animals visible to even the tiniest tot. Careful research ensures that the habitats are as true-to-life as possible. Clever techniques – such as the use of varnish to make water appear wet – add to the authenticity.

Just around the corner from Mammal Hall, Dinolab treats visitors to an insider’s look at how museum paleontologists work. This exhibit station intrigues visitors because it is actually a working laboratory in a gallery setting. While a technician painstakingly works to reveal dinosaur bones in sedimentary rock found in New Mexico and received from Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Museum of Natural History, visitors can observe and ask questions. The slab is full of well articulated dinosaur bones of Coelophysis (pronounced see-lo-FY-sis). A camera zooms in on the technician’s hands, showing how dental-type tools are used to gently excavate the skeletons. In 1999, the museum unveiled a new Coelophysis diorama, an exquisitely designed display that is a significant long-term addition to the museum’s offerings.

In the area of fine arts, The State Museum of Pennsylvania has partnered with the greater Harrisburg Arts Council for thirty-four years to produce “Art of the State,” a statewide juried competition for established and emerging artists. In 1999, artists submitted more than eleven hundred entries in several categories, works on paper, painting, sculpture, crafts, and photography, from which jurors selected one hundred and thirty-two items for inclusion in the prestigious show. The museum most recently purchased James Gwynne’s large oil painting, Landscape with Chair, for its permanent collection. The museum’s permanent collection, selections of which are shown periodically, includes works by a number of Pennsylvania artists. In a ten-year period alone, from 1987 to 1997, the museum acquired important pieces by Edward Hicks (1780-1849), Walter Emerson Baum (1904-1954), Maya Schock (1928-1975), Harry Bertoia (1915-1978), Ned Smith (1919-1985), Jane Piper (1916-1991), Julius Bloch (1888-1966), Jack Savitsky (1910-1991), Violet Oakley (1874-1961), Charles Rudy (1904-1986), George Papashvily (1898-1978), Edith Neff (1943-1995), and Emlen Etting (1905-1993).

The legacy of William Penn looms large at The State Museum of Pennsylvania – and so does the massive statue of him that dominates its vaulted Memorial Hall. Created by Pittsburgh sculptor Janet DeCoux for the building’s opening in 1965, the eighteen-foot-high bronze of the Commonwealth’s founder, weighing in at more than thirty-eight hundred pounds, depicts a thoughtful, dignified, youthful countenance. A reproduction of the Charter for Pennsylvania granted by England’s King Charles II to Penn, as well as a selection of documents basic to the foundation of the Commonwealth, are encased here (see “This Venerable Document” by Linda A. Ries and Jane Smith Stewart). Memorial Hall features an immense mural depicting momentous events and important individuals by Vincent Maragliotti, who also created murals for the State Capitol.

A “must-see” is the monumental painting of one of the most fierce battles in world history, The Battle of Gettysburg: Pickett’s Charge, by Pennsylvania native Peter Frederick Rothermel (1812/1817-1895). This huge work of art – measuring thirty-two feet long by more than sixteen feet high! – serves as a dramatic backdrop for the museum’s Civil War Gallery. Rothermel, who created his masterpiece by synthesizing the collective memory of the many veterans he interviewed, grimly depicts courage in the face of horror and chaos that is still capable of evoking deep emotions well more than a century after its completion (see “Painting for Peer, Patron, and the Public” by Kent Ahrens, Spring 1992).

The Civil War Gallery also includes an array of objects and artifacts that recount the role of Pennsylvanians in the war, including military uniforms and accoutrements, medals, badges, canteens, guidons, drums, cartridges and shells, a cannon, small arms, swords, and paintings. One of the presentation swords on view was manufactured by Tiffany & Co., the New York jewelry firm catering to the country’s carriage trade. Colors (or flags) of several units are on exhibit, including those carried by the Ringgold Light Artillery of Reading, the Logan Guards of Lewistown, and the Second Infantry Regiment of U.S. Colored Troops.

The museum’s popular attractions include a planetarium with changing shows; a full-size Native American village; cobblestone streets of a re-created nineteenth-century village; and period rooms that interpret life in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Pennsylvania. Curiosity Corner, which opened four years ago, provides hands-on opportunities for children. Art, science, and cultural objects, dress-up clothes, books, puzzles, and games provide an important outlet for kids: they can assimilate information in a setting where they are encouraged to touch things rather than chastised for doing so.

Nearly three hundred thousand museum visitors each year enjoy many special events and activities, including Archaeology Month, Heritage Week, fall and spring educational programs, and summer workshops. The Distance Learning Center takes the museum to classrooms across the state. The State Museum of Pennsylvania conducts archaeological excavations at Ephrata Cloister in Lancaster County and, with the Bureau for Historic Preservation, on Harrisburg’s City Island in the Susquehanna River.

Exciting additions to the museum’s permanent exhibits will be the Pennsylvania History Galleries, beginning with “Pennsylvanians at Work” in 2001, followed by “Pennsylvanians at Play,” and then by “Pennsylvanians and the Land.” They will showcase the life of the people of the Commonwealth. Although the exhibits are primarily object-driven, there will be many hands-on activities for people to learn from and enjoy.

As the museum approaches its centennial in 2005, visitors can expect to see many more interactive exhibits throughout the building, lots of innovative programming, and a growing partnership with the community, thanks in part to the facility’s willingness to evolve, and the success of “aMAZE and BEYOND.” “‘aMAZE and BEYOND’ is an absolutely incredible project,” says Anita Blackaby, who deserves much of the credit for the museum’s forward-thinking philosophy. “We feel this is a way for us to give the community tools to help manage a social problem. It also changed the way we work with our community. We’ll never do an exhibit the way we used to!”

The State Museum of Pennsylvania is open Tuesday through Saturday, 9 A.M. to 5 P.M.; Sunday, noon to 5 P.M. The museum is closed Mondays and holidays. Admission is free, but there is a charge for the Curiosity Connection, planetarium shows, and “aMAZE and BEYOND.” Persons with disabilities who need special assistance or accommodation should telephone (717) 787-4979 or write the museum in advance of their visit to discuss their needs. Persons who are deaf, hard of hearing, or speech impaired who wish to contact a hearing person via Text Telephone may use the PA Relay Center at 1-800-654-5984. For more information, write: The State Museum of Pennsylvania, 300 North Street, Harrisburg, PA 17108-1026; telephone (717) 787-4980; or visit the State Museum of Pennsylvania website.

 

Travel Tips

In addition to The State Museum, Harrisburg, the Dauphin County seat and state capital, is home to a number of popular visitor attractions. Located adjacent to the museum, and also administered by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, the Pennsylvania State Archives welcomes researchers – historians, college and university students and teachers, scholars, genealogists – from throughout the world to examine millions of government records, military documents, photographs, maps, diaries, court dockets, naturalization papers, aerial surveys, farm census returns, canal and railroad company papers, ship passenger lists, Native American deeds, and papers of prominent Pennsylvanians and their families. The State Capitol, just south of the museum and archives complex, is one of the most opulent in the nation (see “A Capital Idea! A Brief and Bumpy History of Pennsylvania’s Capitols” by Suzanne McInerney, Pennsylvania Heritage, Winter 1994). Designated a “Commonwealth Treasure” by the PHMC, the State Capitol is truly a treasure house, with murals by Edward Austin Abbey and Violet Oakley (see “Violet Oakley, Lady Mural Painter” by Patricia Likos, Pennsylvania Heritage, Fall 1988); sculpture by George Grey Barnard and Roland Hinton Perry; decorative tiles by Henry Chapman Mercer; and stained glass windows by William Van Ingen.

The Historical Society of Dauphin County, established in 1869, is headquartered in the stately John Harris-Simon Cameron Mansion overlooking the Susquehanna River. The society administers an archives, library, and museum. Five miles north of center-city, Fort Hunter Mansion and Park, located on the banks of the Susquehanna, is a thirty-five-acre complex whose centerpiece is a stone Federal-style house built in 1814 by Archibald McAllister, an officer who served directly under George Washington during the Revolutionary War. The mansion is furnished with pieces reflecting the Empire and Victorian periods.

Dauphin County has something for just about everyone. The Fire Museum of Greater Harrisburg, housed in the former Reily Fire Station, in service from 1899 until 1980, features an extensive collection of firefighting memorabilia and equipment. Art lovers will enjoy changing exhibits mounted by the Susquehanna Art Museum, the Doshi Center for Contemporary Art, and the Art Association of Harrisburg.

Whitaker Center for Science and the Arts, a recent addition to Harrisburg’s cultural community, offers scientific, artistic, cultural, and educational activities. Its state-of-the-art Science Center, featuring more than two hundred interactive exhibits, is the first facility of its kind to use art as an entry to science. Nine permanent exhibitions explore physical science, natural science, life science, and technology. The fifty-six-million-dollar center is home to a number of resident performing companies, among them the Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, Concertante Chamber Ensemble, Harrisburg Choral Society, Harrisburg Opera Association, Susquehanna Chorale, Theatre Harrisburg (formerly Harrisburg Community Theatre), and the Wednesday Club Music Society. An Imax Theater brings audiences a sense of action and reality by projecting images on a screen rising six stories in height!

The city’s National Civil War Museum in Reservoir Park, showcases a preeminent collection of objects and artifacts of national significance. The museum boasts nearly thirty thousand square feet of exhibition galleries.

Hershey, known as the “chocolate capital,” is home to the Hershey Museum, which chronicles the life and career of candymaker Milton S. Hershey, and exhibits a diverse selection of Native American objects and artifacts, Pennsylvania German furnishings and works of art, and items and ephemera documenting the history of the community. The Middletown Area Historical Society administers the Ferry House and the Liberty Band Hall. The Hummelstown Area Historical Society manages the 1815 Parish House, formerly a Lutheran church. In the Dauphin County ‘s northern reaches, the Gratz Historical Society, the Halifax Area Historical Society, and the Historical Society of Millersburg/Upper Paxton Township document and interpret local history. Throughout the county, a number of community historical societies and historic preservation associations regularly conduct public programs for residents and visitors.

For more information about these and other attractions, write: Hershey Capital Region Visitors Bureau, 112 Market Street, 4th Floor, Harrisburg, PA 17101; telephone toll-free 877 PA PULSE; or visit the Hershey Capital Region Visitors Bureau website.

 

For Further Reading

Alexander, Edward P. Museums in Motion. Nashville: American Association for State and Local History, 1979.

Bazin, Germain. The Museum Age. New York: Universe Books, 1967.

Bell, Whitfield J. Jr., et al. A Cabinet of Curiosities: Five Episodes in the Evolution of American Museums. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1967.

Cawley, Lucinda Reddington, Lorraine DeAngelis Ezbiansky, and Denise Rocheleau Nordberg. Saved for the People of Pennsylvania: Quilts from The State Museum of Pennsylvania. Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 1997.

Randall, Kesler A., Robert M. Sullivan and Spencer G. Lucas. Natural History Notes of the State Museum of Pennsylvania: “Dunkleosteus: Devonian Denizen of the Deep.” Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 1996.

The State Museum of Pennsylvania. The Fine Art of Giving: Gifts of Art to the State Museum of Pennsylvania, 1987-1997. Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 1998

Sullivan, Robert M., and Spencer G. Lucas. Natural History Notes of The State Museum of Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania’s Dinosaurs and Other Triassic Reptiles. Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 1999.

Warfel, Steven G. Historical Archaeology at Ephrata Cloister. Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997.

 

For her invaluable assistance and infectious enthusiasm, as well as her thorough review of the text of this article, the author and editor thank Anita D. Blackaby, director of The State Museum of Pennsylvania.

 

Sharon Hernes Silverman of West Chester, Chester County, is the author of four books, including Going Underground: Your Guide to Caves in the Mid-Atlantic. She writes frequently for Pennsylvania Heritage. Her most recent feature, “The Boat Ride That Changed America: Washington Crossing Historic Park,” appeared in the Fall 1999 edition.