Sunday, August 15, 2010

Strawberry Banke Museum


Ever heard the term "living history museum"? Colonial Williamsburg, Old Sturbridge Village,and Plimouth Plantation - They're all living history museums (LHM). And so is Strawberry Bank Museum.

A LHM is defined as special type of open air museum. "An open-air museum is a distinct type of museum exhibiting its collections out-of-doors. The first open-air museums were established in Scandinavia towards the end of the nineteenth century, and the concept soon spread throughout Europe and North America. Open-air museums are variously known as skansen, museums of buildings and folk museums. Living museums, also known as living farm museums and living history museums, are a special type of open-air museum where costumed interpreters portray period life in an earlier era. The interpreters act as if they are really living in a different time and place, such as the Colonial era, and perform everyday household tasks, crafts and businesses. The goal is to demonstrate older lifestyles to modern audiences." (Open Air Museums -Wikipedia)

Well back to Strawberry Bank. It's way way smaller than Colonial Williamsburg and smaller than Old Sturbridge Village. But still with 42 houses on 10 acres, there's plenty to see.

In 1950's and 60's The neighborhood formerly known as Puddle Dock was a dilapidated area slated for the urban renewal wrecking ball until a town librarian spearheaded a plan to save the area and turn it into a museum. Our tour guide credited this successful venture as a foundation in the renewal of the city of Portsmouth,NH.

Highlights of the tour for me included the Shapiro House, described in this NY Times Sept 15, 2009 article "Rosh Hashana,Circa 1919

Also the Shapley -Drisco House is a fascinating juxtaposition of the use of this house in 1795 and then in 1955. If you're a baby boomer you'll find the 1955 living room and kitchen full of familiar objects.

And then there's the World War II era corner store. That's always a captivating stop. It's fun to look through all the products and identify those that are still around.

I'm going to take a stand on the controversy of costumed interpreters. I don't remember their performances well enough at most of the living history museums that I've visited but Strawberry Banke is fresh in my mind and for the most part I felt engaged and entertained. In the hands of a less skillful and committed actor they can come across as a member of the Disney staff but the three I encountered in S.B. were adept at drawing you into their world. How do you feel about them?

Inside a garage building were these pictures of World War II posters. What's with the "Save waste fats for explosives. Take them to your meat dealer."? I'd like to learn more about that! And I found the list of ways that you could help the war effort to be fascinating. It's hard to image people rallying around these simple purposeful patriotic actions today. Maybe you can't read the last one well. With my conservation mentality I like the saying: "I'll carry mine too! Trucks and tires must last till victory."

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