FRANKLIN — For months the Miners Hall Museum, Franklin, has proudly proclaimed that “The Smithsonian is coming!”
Well, the Smithsonian is here.
The Smithsonian traveling exhibit explores how work became such a central element in American culture by tracing the many changes affecting the American workforce and work environments over the past 150 years. It will open after a ribbon cutting and grand opening ceremony at 10 a.m. Saturday.
Until that time, however, the museum will be closed to the public while final preparations are made.
“We’ll have a countdown going to kind of build the suspense,” said Phyllis Bitner, bookkeeper of the Franklin Community Council, Inc.
The Kansas tour of “The Way We Worked” is sponsored by the Kansas Humanities Council, a nonprofit cultural organization, in partnership with the Smithsonian institution’s Museum on Main Street.
The truck carrying the 12 crates of the exhibit from its site in Baldwin City rolled up to the museum early Monday afternoon. Members of the FCCI board were there to put the exhibit together, with guidance from David Kreider, museum technician from the Kauffman Museum, Bethel College, North Newton.
He said that he was hired by the Kansas Humanities Council to drive the truck to the six communities hosting the exhibit and helps set it up.
“I think Kansas is the only place that ships the exhibit to the locations,” Kreider said. “The way we do it is kind of nice, and takes the burden off the local places.”
This is his fourth exhibit series. He said that the first was an exhibit called “Between Fences,” and it came with a paper layout of how the exhibit was to be arranged.
“The layout was not to scale, and there were some problems trying to fit it all together,” Kreider said. “At our museum I’m used to coming up with solutions.”
His solution was a full-scale template made with sticks that can be arranged on the floor to guide where everything needs to go.
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“This eliminates the frustration of having to deal with a printed plan,” he said.
When “Between Fences” was shipped back, he included the sticks with it, and now the Smithsonian uses his system as a guide to arranging the traveling exhibits at their host sites.
“I sometimes feel a little guilty that we’re getting paid to travel and put things together,” Kreider said. “It sometimes feels like play, and I get to see different parts of the great state of Kansas. That never gets old for me.”
With “The Way We Worked,” he has gotten to Lyons, Hugoton, Goodland, Concordia, Baldwin City and the final stop, Franklin.
The set-up was going well Monday afternoon, according to the volunteers.
“It’s cool the way it goes together,” said Kaye Lynne Webb.
The exhibit includes kiosk-style boards with photos and printed text, artifacts, audio and interactive elements.
Numerous school groups will be viewing the exhibit.
“We’re full of all the school groups we can handle,” said Alan Roberts, FCCI board member. “I’ve taken packets of information to all the teachers who are coming with their students, and informed them of four web sites they can use to prep their kids before they come.”
B.J. Harris, director of the Crawford County Convention and Visitors Bureau, feels the exhibit will have an economic impact to the county.
“It’s a huge piece of the puzzle we’ve put together this summer to bring tourism to southeast Kansas,” he said. “We don’t have that one big attraction, but we have a progression from the Smithsonian exhibit on through Little Balkans Days.”
Southeast Kansas Art Fest, which will celebrate the area’s coal mining heritage with a “parade” of decorated fiber glass coal buckets through downtown Pittsburg, is another piece of the puzzle.
Page 3 of 3 - “We’ll have a bucket here at the Miners Hall Museum, people will ask about it and we’ll tell them what it is, and that could send them to downtown Pittsburg,” Harris said. “Big Brutus is a partner in this exhibit and they’ll have working dragline models here. People will see them and hopefully will want to go on to West Mineral to see Big Brutus.”
He hopes that some of those who just come to spend a day in the area may decide to stay overnight and see more things the next day.
“The benefits multiply, because people coming in will need to buy gas, they’ll want to shop and get something to eat,” Harris said. “If they want to stay overnight, they’ll need to stay in a motel. History and food are two of the big reasons why people travel, and we’ve got both those nailed down here.”
Numerous special events are being planned during the exhibit, which will run through June 23.