‘The Way We Worked’: Smithsonian traveling exhibition arrives in Southern Utah

This photo shows the Smithsonian exhibits first stop in Utah, the Hyrum City Museum, Hyrum, Utah, Mar. 25, 2017 | Photo courtesy of Utah Humanities, St. George News

WASHINGTON COUNTY – Washington County’s museums have staged a coup of sorts. For the first time ever, a Smithsonian Museum traveling exhibit is coming to Southern Utah.

While these traveling exhibits are typically displayed in big-city museums, the Smithsonian has been reaching out to less-populated metropolitan areas of late, and “The Way We Worked” Smithsonian exhibits will be on display at several museums throughout the county starting Saturday and running through Nov. 4.

The Smithsonian exhibits, assisted by Utah Humanities, have already started touring Utah this year, making stops in Ogden, Hyrum, CastleDale and Fillmore before making their way to Washington County. After they leave Washington County, they will go to Park City.

Gary Dixon, a Silver Reef docent, and Museum Director Bobbi Wan-kier pose in 19th century costumes. Dixon is also part of the Muddy River Gang, who present gunfights at the Silver Reef Museum, and will lecture on guns and lawmen as part of the Smithsonian exhibition, Silver Reef Museum, Leeds, Utah, date unspecified | Photo courtesy of Silver Reef Museum, St. George News

Here in Utah’s Dixie, several exhibits have already gone up in conjunction with the Smithsonian traveling exhibits called “Washington County Works,” which present just that – how people worked over the course of the county’s history. The Smithsonian pieces will serve connect the work that went on in southwestern Utah to the national story. A lecture series coinciding with the Smithsonian exhibition has already begun.

Bobbi Wan-kier, Silver Reef Museum director, has been one of the main catalysts of the exhibition this fall. Even though she has no direct connection to Silver Reef’s history, she takes great pride in it, calling herself a modern-day pioneer.

When she first visited the area from her hometown in Chicago, she fell in love with the place and basically sold everything she owned and moved.

A realtor and interior designer in her previous careers, Wan-kier got to know the museums in the area because of her husband’s work as an artist, and she put together a studio tour. That tour became the springboard to founding her nonprofit organization, Arts to Zion, which will transform itself into the museum association. She’s been the museum’s director for the last year and a half.

Establishing the museum association has been one of Wan-kier’s major achievements as museum director. It has brought museums throughout the county together to work toward a common goal: promoting the arts and humanities within the county.

“We’ve got a strong foundation to make this happen,” Wan-kier said about the museum’s collaboration on Washington County Works. “There are a lot of stories to tell.”

Wan-kier said the exhibits highlight technology, workforce changes, westward expansion, women receiving rights and other topics.

Inside the McQuarrie Memorial Museum in St. George maintained by the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers. The museum is bursting at the seams with pioneer-era relics and history and is well worth a visit, St. George, Utah, July 21, 2017 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

Teresa Orton, director of the Daughters of Utah Pioneers McQuarrie Memorial Museum, said she and her museum staff are excited to host their exhibit.

“It is a great honor to have the Smithsonian traveling exhibit in Washington County,” Orton said. “This is an excellent opportunity to bring our Pioneer heritage to the public in a fun and interesting way.”

The exhibits in her museum, she said, will point out the differences from work in the past and work today. The McQuarrie museum prepared an exhibit to complement the traveling exhibit to highlight local pioneers and the specific work they did, which was unique to this area, she said.

“We felt that work done by the Pioneer women needed to highlighted so we have prepared a special interpretive display about quilting showing why the quilting bee was crucial to the survival of the early communities,” she said. “We discovered the names of 160 women who participated in a special quilt that would have remained forgotten but for this project.”  

The Muddy River Gang, who perform gunfight re-enactments, pose in their costumes in front of the Silver Reef Museum, Leeds, Utah, date unspecified | Photo courtesy of Silver Reef Museum, St. George News

Orton said she thinks that visitors to the museum during the exhibit’s run will be fascinated to learn about the skills, jobs and talents of the area’s early pioneers and will be interested to find out more about their histories.  

“We expect that there will be an increase in the number of visitors to our museum as they find out more about the additional activities and lectures that are planned during the stay of the Smithsonian traveling exhibit,” she said.

In addition to the lectures and exhibits, the Silver Reef Museum will host Saturday activities, including gunfights and docents dressed up in late 19th century costumes. They will also host their Ghost Nights on Oct. 27-28. For more information about these activities, please check the Silver Reef Museum website.

Museums hosting exhibits and the exhibits they will host:

  • Dixie State University Sears Art Museum – “Artists: At Work in their Studios”
  • McQuarrie Memorial Museum (DUP) – “Textiles, Women at Work”
  • St. George Art Museum – “Seniors: At Work!” – photography collection
  • St. George Children’s Museum – “The Workforce of Our Future”
  • St. George Dinosaur Discovery Site at Johnson Farm – “Paleontology is Work!”
  • Santa Clara History Museum – “Dairy Farming in Santa Clara, UT”
  • Silver Reef Museum Cosmopolitan – Exhibits from “Arts to Zion” showcase
  • Virgin Town Historic Church/Heritage Square – “Crash Dummies (Flying Monkeys)/ Smith Mesa”
  • Zion Human History Museum – “Artists and the National Parks”
Local historian Doug Alder dresses up as a historical ghost at a previous Silver Reef Ghost Nights activity, Leeds, Utah, date unspecified | Photo courtesy of Silver Reef Museum, St. George News

The lectures on tap coinciding with the exhibition are as follows:

  • Sept. 23 – Dr. W. Paul Reeve, “By all means give Nevada a Slice: The 1866 Utah-Nevada Border Shift and the Way Washington County Worked,” Electric Theater, 10 a.m.
  • Sept. 30 – Lyman Hafen and Royden Card, “Artists and the National Parks,” Electric Theater, 10 a.m.
  • Oct. 12 – Mike Shamo, “Leeds CCC Camp,” Leeds Town Hall, 6 p.m.
  • Oct. 14 – Lynne Clark, “Art, Music and Theater in Washington County, Then and Now,” DSU Eccles Center 10 a.m.
  • Oct. 14 – Dr. Jerry Harris, “Geology & Paleontology of Southwestern Utah,” Dixie Academy (St. George Children’s Museum, 10 a.m.
  • Oct. 21 – Dr. Leo Lyman, “Stagecoach and Wagon Transportation through Washington County 1865-1875,” Electric Theater, 10 a.m.
  • Oct. 26 – Gary Dixon, “Law and Order,” Leeds Town Hall, 7 p.m.
  • Nov. 4 – Panel discussion – “How History Shapes Today,” Electric Theater, 10 a.m.

For a complete listing of activities in conjunction with “The Way We Worked” and “Washington County Works,” go to the Silver Reef Museum website.

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Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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