NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Kauffman Museum at Bethel College is honoring the 150th anniversary of Kansas statehood by hosting the special exhibition “Awesome 150: Museum Friends Share Their Favorites.”
Following work by high school students in one of the museum’s summer Uncle Carl’s Camps sessions, the exhibition went on display in mid-July and remains through Oct. 30.
Volunteers served as “community curators” by going behind the scenes to select 150 historical artifacts and taxidermy specimens from the study collections. Museum Director Rachel Pannabecker said, “Bringing out 150 things that Kansans of today find valuable has been a fun way to acknowledge 150 awesome years of statehood.”
Youth in the “Finding Treasure at Kauffman Museum” summer camp interviewed the curators and recorded their stories of why Kauffman Museum’s collections are interesting or important. Guided by LuAnn Zook, Newton High School English teacher and camp teacher, the youth, aged 13-18, developed the stories into the exhibition labels.
Some museum friends selected items that brought back memories of Charles Kauffman, for whom the museum is named. As a child, Alice Suderman of North Newton visited Kauffman’s museum in Marion, S.D., and remembered his special talent for creating dioramas. For the “Awesome 150,” Suderman chose “Last Honors to Bunny,” a miniature carved and painted scene that shows children burying their pet.
Others remembered items from the “old” Kauffman Museum when it was located in Alumni Hall on the Bethel College campus, 1941-76. Craig Andres, Wichita, recalled a Fall Festival of his childhood when he made the difficult decision to pay admission to the museum in order to see the big snake, rather than purchasing a snow cone. That python, from India, is in “Awesome 150.”
Young museum friends only know Kauffman Museum in its current location, where it reopened in 1983 at the corner of 27th and Main Streets in North Newton. Children who visit the museum on school field trips found it an awesome experience to go into the study collections and pick an artifact from the thousands of items collected by Kauffman and museum staff.
Middle school student Naomi Neufeld Epp, North Newton, chose a tiny doll. She said, “I love small things and the dress was so perfect and obviously handmade and I admired that work. It was so tiny and fragile-looking.”
Some “community curators” selected items simply because they evoked fond personal memories. Vic Goering, North Newton, chose an antique coffee grinder like the one his family used to grind poppy seed for machkuchen, a Swiss Volhynian sweet roll with poppy seed and sweet cream filling.
Goering’s story begins with planting seed in February and moves through the process of eating the final baked treat. He concluded, “Either you like poppy seed roll or you think it’s the worst thing that ever happened.”
In addition to interviewing the curators, “Finding Treasures” campers selected their favorite items for the exhibition. David Montelongo, a high school sophomore from Newton, chose a Masonic Lodge sword.
He wrote: “I went through lots of artifacts until I found this wonderful sword. The sword seems to be at least 100 years old. I really liked the beautiful artwork engraved on the sheath, handle and even the blade. This weapon seems to be too elegant to actually be used as a weapon.”
“Awesome 150” items include a Cheyenne peace pipe, a Mrs. Chase hospital doll and a hay knife. “Involving the community in the selection and interpretation of these objects emphasizes our belief that we are all stewards of American memory,” Pannabecker said.
Regular Kauffman Museum hours are 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, and 1:30-4:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The museum is closed Mondays and major holidays. Admission to the museum, which also includes admission to the current special exhibit, “Awesome 150,” as well as 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, call the museum at 316-283-1612 or visit its website, www.bethelks.edu/kauffman/.