Like most museums, the Mansfield Museum is home to a variety of exhibits, some designed as more or less permanent while others, including our special annual displays, have a shorter public lifespan. All, however, permanent and temporary, depend upon the cooperation and generosity of our supporters for the artifacts and other pieces that make up each display. Without citizen involvement, our museum would be hard-pressed to deliver on a key assignment: to preserve and present, with the aim of revealing the past and informing the future. And so the Mansfield Museum is busy collecting.
The collection process works in different ways. Often, the accumulation of materials follows a board decision to mount a specific theme-based exhibit. The word goes forth, with citizens asked to revisit attics, inspect dusty containers stored in remote warrens and, in general, poke around. This procedure has been employed many times in recent years, with community searches centered on family history, service organizations, the public school, farms and farming, brides and weddings and U.S. military veterans. The results can be surprising: people turn up all sorts of things, while the museum adds to its holdings. Much is collected.
Just as likely, however, the museum becomes the depository of choice through unplanned and unanticipated occurrences. An artifact or materials judged worthy of preservation in an institutional setting are discovered. Such serendipitous discoveries and subsequent donations are common. A stash of old newspapers, a diary or bundle of letters, or a box of ancient photographs — all are troves to be welcomed.
While collecting and sharing, the museum is fostering another desirable yet difficult to measure outcome. For a not to be overlooked benefit of a community-anchored-museum, is the encouragement to connect. Looking backward, locals are engaging with the past, strengthening a respect for what went before. As their appreciation of the past grows, they become more sensitive to the meaning of community. A heightened awareness of a common past nudges people to firm up connections with one another. A bonded community is a more healthy community, where reflection and conversation take place.
Collecting then, is a high priority as well as a necessity for our museum. But an equally gratifying dividend is the advancement of connecting — with the past, with others and with the community. The Greeks, as is well-known, figured this out more than two millennia ago. Their polis-oriented approach to life remains valid, helping to drive planning at the Mansfield Museum.
Darold Wax writes about the history of the Mansfield area.