County residents and visitors can now learn about traditional life in the Mother Lode thanks to the installation of three brand new exhibits at the Angels Camp Museum. The new artisan displays differ from typical museum offerings by bringing a new interactive component to the offered exhibits.
At a ribbon cutting ceremony held earlier this month, Angels Camp mayor Elaine Morris expressed gratitude toward the museum and said she was, “happy to provide a new educational experience,” before using scissors to cut through a red ribbon marking the official exhibit opening.
The new exhibits, a carpentry, print and textiles shop, educate visitors about what life was like for traditional nineteenth century artisans but they also allow museum guests to live the experience.
Former museum director Craig Hadley explained that the idea for new exhibits was introduced at the first museum commission meeting he attended after taking up the director position over a year ago.
“The idea of a small print exhibit was brought up and I immediately saw this as an opportunity. Not for a single exhibit but for an entire series to educate the public about traditional area crafts.”
Constructing the three exhibits took about a year and cost approximately $35,000. Funds were raised through private monetary and object donations and in-kind services.
“Community members really gave their own time and expertise to help bring this together,” commented Hadley.
The shops are housed in the museum’s Mining and Ranching building. Upon entering, visitors can experience a late 19th century carpenter’s shop. Large descriptive panels let visitors know when they can engage in an interactive activity such as assembling a carriage wheel or learning hands-on about the particular joints used for assembling period furniture.
Visitors can also view a restored carriage - painted in bright colors, the 19th century version of catching potential customers’ attention - traditional printing presses, a loom from the late 1800s and traditional fabrics and fashions of the Mother Lode during its Gold Rush heyday.
The museum hopes to have various experts in each of the three exhibit trades act as volunteer artisans on a regular basis and train museum staff in the basic skills needed to demonstrate the crafts to the public.
The new exhibits are the starting point of a five year plan to overhaul the entire museum.
“The goal is to incorporate more state of the art interactive exhibits. Not many small museums have that,” said Hadley.
He envisioned a tech-savvy tour. Visitors could potentially scan QR codes with their smart phones or rented tablets at different exhibit stations and embark on a virtual excursion into 19th century Angels Camp and the surrounding area.
In the coming years Angels Camp Museum also hopes to expand its education program, providing outreach to 4,000 fourth graders in four different counties through free in-class curriculum based lessons on the Gold Rush. The museum has visions of raising enough money to offer free on-site programs to students.
In addition to upgrading content, the museum will undergo a physical renovation as well in response to what Hadley views as the museum’s biggest challenge.
“We’ve got to work on changing the perception of this museum,” he said.
An entirely new site plan, to be drafted by this December, will outline the plans for developing an entirely new historic façade for the front of the museum’s main building, similar to the architecture in downtown Angels Camp.
“We have almost 35,000 square feet of exhibits and hardly anyone knows that,” said Hadley, adding that construction should start next spring.
“There are big plans,” he concluded.
Artisans sided with Hadley, viewing the new exhibits as a welcome addition.
“They’ve really made a lot of improvements,” said Ian McWherter of Sacramento, who was demonstrating how to mend a miner’s shirt.
“It’s great that there’s so much focus on interactive interpretation, you really get a lot more insight that way,” he said as he adjusted his cross-legged position, one he described as a typical stance for period tailors.
“It’s nice to see some direction.”