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Celebrate state’s 150th with 'K is for Kansas' at Kauffman Museum

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – To celebrate the 150th anniversary of Kansas statehood, Kauffman Museum at Bethel College has brought back its award-winning traveling exhibit “K is for Kansas: Exploring Kansas from A to Z,” through May 22.

The popular exhibition leads visitors on an alphabetic journey across the Sunflower State, from “aviation” to “Z-Bar Ranch.” Kauffman Museum developed the exhibit, which received a 2004 Award for Excellence from the Kansas Museums Association and a 2006 Award of Merit from the American Association for State and Local History – their highest prize.

“K is for Kansas” uses the letters of the alphabet to illustrate significant features of the natural and cultural history of Kansas. Composed of big alphabet blocks that surround a large-scale carpet map of Kansas, the exhibition seeks to increase appreciation of the unique people, places, animals, plants and everyday things of Kansas.

Each of the 26 alphabet blocks provides in-depth coverage of one word meaningful to Kansans. These words are represented in various ways from maps and historic photographs to the real object.

Preschoolers can play with an ornate box turtle shell or a toy Santa Fe locomotive. Schoolchildren can learn about James Naismith, the inventor of basketball and the first University of Kansas basketball coach, by playing a mini-game at the “N” block. Everyone will appreciate the breeze of the Vornado fan invented in Kansas and the carving of an upland sandpiper by Newton artist Ray Cook.

The exploring theme is also reflected in the exhibit’s design. Kauffman Museum director Rachel Pannabecker said, “In-depth information about grasshoppers is hidden until you lift flippers marked ‘Pests?’ and ‘Partners?,’ while the definition and picture of a free state ‘jayhawker’ is revealed only when you push a slider.” Family packs with activity suggestions are available to help orient parents with children to the exhibit.

Hundreds of words were considered in the exhibit development process. “The exhibition reflects where we are and who we are – an exhibit team of parents, designers, teachers, scientists, artists and carpenters who, after a combined 200 years of living here, have come to love Kansas,” said Kauffman Museum exhibit designer Chuck Regier.

The words selected by the exhibit team include personal favorites that point to the quirky and fun sides of Kansas. For example, the Dalton Gang, Dexter helium wells and dogbane are listed as D words. But the exhibit also supports social studies and science standards established by the Kansas Department of Education by including Kansas symbols and concepts such as Dust Bowl.

“K is for Kansas” is located in Kauffman Museum’s special exhibition gallery, which also includes artwork created by students from Northridge Elementary School in Newton: two giant painted turtles and a life-sized bison installed as part of the museum’s previous exhibition “KANSAS: Kids At Northridge Sharing Art and Story.”

“Holding over these colorful Kansas symbols really enlivens our gallery and shows borrowing museums how they can make a traveling exhibition connect to their community,” Pannabecker said.

A 28-page, folding booklet featuring the Kansas alphabet provides the complete list of words included in “K is for Kansas.” The booklet is also an award-winner – it received first prize in the 2004 American Association of Museums Publications Design Competition and the 2004 Award for Publications Excellence from the Mountain-Plains Museum Association. The booklet is available for purchase in the Kauffman Museum store.

“K is for Kansas” has been displayed at Smoky Hill Museum in Salina, Stauth Memorial Museum in Montezuma, Johnson County Museums in Shawnee, Coffey County Historical Museum in Burlington, Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum in Wichita, Cherokee Strip Land Rush Museum in Arkansas City and the Brown County Historical Museum in Hiawatha. In October 2011 the exhibition will travel to the Dane G. Hansen Museum in Logan.

Kauffman Museum, located on the Bethel College campus at 27th and North Main Streets in North Newton, is open 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Tues.-Fri., and 1:30-4:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. It is closed Mondays and major holidays.

Admission to the museum, which also includes admission to the permanent exhibits “Of Land and People,” “Mirror of the Martyrs” and “Mennonite Immigrant Furniture,” is $4 for adults, $2 for children ages 6-16, and free to Kauffman Museum members and children under 6. For more information about Kauffman Museum and “K is for Kansas,” contact the museum at 316-283-1612 or see www.bethelks.edu/kauffman/.

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