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.