Friday, March 2, 2012

Crowdsourcing Grandmas?

Last week I sat down with my own mother and looked at photos of her mother (above) when she was young.  I emailed my aunt looking for photos of my other grandmother and sorted through old photos at my house.  I dug out my Grandmother Baird's written memories of her childhood summers on Basket Island in Maine, and remembered my Dad's stories about a few childhood years spent in Ocean City, MD.  I emailed the photos to my daughter and shared them with my husband.  What made me take the time to do all that?  A great new exhibit project by the Bleschunova Museum of Personal Collections in Odessa, Ukraine called My Young Grandmother.   The museum is, as its name says, an eclectic individual collection but an enthusiastic staff has taken on a number of innovative projects that extend the museum far out from just a place to see odd things. 
On Facebook and on the web,  the museum invited everyone to imagine and remember that their grandmothers were young once,  that they "ran to the dance, received flowers, and posed in front of the camera in their beautiful dresses."  And not just to remember, but to send those memories and photos for the museum to share with others--a crowdsourced exhibit of grandmothers opening soon.
I've noticed that many history museums in the U.S. have a Grandmother's Attic, some sort of play activity space where you can dress up,  play games, and the like.   I'm all for interactives,  but I'm often concerned that this kind of presentation is too generic--it's both everyone's and no one's grandmother.  And of course, those places often represent the grandmothers of the museum staff, not necessarily the grandmothers of our visitors.  The Bleschunova Museum has made it personal--it's your grandmother.  My Scots/Irish/English grandmothers, both born in 1900,  would be astonished to find themselves on display at a Ukrainian museum.  But across the years, and across the seas,  this museum's creative exhibit idea made a personal connection to me--and isn't that what we wish to do with all our visitors, virtual and real?  I can't wait to hear other grandmother stories from Odessa--and wish other local history museums would come up with such a project.
Photos from top:  Blanche Hallett Baird,  Marian Aller Norris (left) and family,  Blanche (far right) and her family in Maine, Marian (top) with her brother Robert.


Rebecca Lawrence said...

This is what I love about working in a history museum- the clear personal collections that we facilitate. We get to help create those connections between the individual visitor and our collections and there's nothing like being part of the experience when a visitor responds to personal family objects/photos in our galleries. It's their history. I had a similar shared personal experience when I attended a Jewish synagogue in Muhlhausen Germany with my partner who was moved to tears when he stood in the place that meant so much to his grandfather and looked at photos of his relatives he never knew. I love reading your blog, you have great ideas, and offer us so much encouragement!

Carole said...

Nice blog. You might like this poem about mothers.

Linda Norris said...

Thanks Rebecca and Carole, for commenting. Absolutely right, Rebecca, it's all about those personal connections and how we can imaginatively create them for visitors, even when the connection seems not so here, where grandmas made the tie!

Anonymous said...

I love this idea and it reminds me of a really fascinating and titillating site
This is a crowd-sourced online exhibit of photos of men that are physically attractive to the submitters. Also, the grandma idea would be a great pop-up museum program...maybe the boyfriend idea would too but would probably require a bit more research...there's got to be a way to turn it into a cool public program. Do you have an idea, Linda?

Linda Norris said...

Anonymous--hmmm....I've been thinking about pop-up museums/programs more lately. Partly for the Pickle Project ( and partly because of Rainey Tisdale's recent blog post The trick would be to get people to pop-up with photos of their grandmothers. Or with those adorable guys, what about a pop-up where people imagine a profile for them; so the images are in place, and people imagine the context?