Old Independence Regional Museum in Batesville Wins Award

Old Independence Regional Museum in Batesville received from the Arkansas Museums Association its 2009 Exhibit of the Year–Produced In-house Award for the museum’s “Living Off the Land …Season by Season” exhibit. This year the association’s annual conference was held on March 24-25 and was hosted by Arkansas State University, Jonesboro.

During the conference, a full-slate of informative sessions were attended by members of the AMA who represented most of the state’s museums, both large and small, with the theme of “Back to Basics.” The mission of the Association is to recognize and encourage outstanding work within the Arkansas museum community. This year’s conference ended with a festive Awards Banquet, held in the Cooper Center.

Twyla Gill Wright, curator of Old Independence Regional Museum, sat enjoying the beef wellington on her plate when the awards ceremony began. A number of Arkansas museums had been nominated for excellence in several categories. Wright was hoping that Old Independence would win at least an honorable mention for its nominated exhibit. “It was like a small academy award night, with each category’s winner presented with a plaque,” Wright said. “The exhibit award was the culmination of the evening, and I crossed my fingers. But as several other museums received their honorable mentions, my heart sank. It was stiff competition. And then, to my amazement, they announced the winner of the Exhibit of the Year: Old Independence Regional Museum!”

Wright explained that the museum had deliberately planned this exhibit to be integrated in several dimensions. It connects to its rural heritage, connects family members to one another, and connects all programming to the exhibit during its two-year existence. It is directly linked to the museum’s mission.

This winning exhibit was the creation of a team of people committed to the museum. Nelson Barnett donated his time and artistic eye as co-curator of the exhibit, working with Wright. He stated, “It was exciting to be asked to help with the exhibit. It was a group effort and taught me some history, plus I got an extra kick of nostalgia as I remembered the days when I did window displays at Barnett Brothers. Winning the state award just topped off the whole experience!”

The museum’s 12-member Collections/Exhibits/Program Committee generated ideas and loaned items for the exhibit. They assisted the curator in checking for historical accuracy by taking oral interviews, using the museum’s computerized collections management system data, and searching through the 12 counties’ published historical journals, as needed. The curator checked additional facts with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.

Linda Wann, museum volunteer, assisted in retrieving artifacts from the museum’s storage and helped to arrange them. Kay Longenbach scouted for artifacts to borrow and then brought them in, plus she baked a fake pie to be used as part of the exhibit. Amanda Nikkel dyed fabric for one display, and Ann Rhodes loaned her precious otter jacket. Anne Moore brought in corn stalks and dry corn on the cob to be shelled by museum visitors, and loaned two tables. Bill Hoskins made homemade pokeberry ink. Dennis Wright built a cabinet for animal sounds and helped in many other ways.

Most of the objects on exhibit are from the museum’s collections. Other items are on loan from local residents who were eager to share their treasures. Tony’s Taxidermy loaned several of his animals for display.

“We hope that even more people in our region will come to see this award-winning exhibit, participate in its hands-on activities, and enjoy what we have brought to life,” Wright said. Old Independence serves a 12-county area: Baxter, Cleburne, Fulton, Independence, Izard, Jackson, Marion, Poinsett, Sharp, Stone, White, and Woodruff. Parts of these present-day counties comprised the original Independence County in 1820s Arkansas territory.