An Oregon Trail Lacemakers member shows a visitor the art of lacemaking. Maddie McGraw, museum curator, said one reason the exhibit was successful was due to the Oregon Trail Lacemakers’ presence. ALIYA HALL/THE CHRONICLE
SPRINGFIELD – It was a ”perfect collaboration” between the Springfield Museum and Oregon Trail Lacemakers that made the lacemaking exhibit at the museum such a success, Museum Curator Maddie McGraw said.
The exhibit ran through August and attracted 689 visitors over the course of the month. The exhibit was part of two art walks and a student visit, and coordinated with the Springfield Library for their bilingual storyteller program and adult crafters group.
”One of the goals of the museum being part of the library department is to be really active in programming,” McGraw said. ”It’s a great way for the museum to provide program tie-ins. It was collaborative all the way around.”
The exhibit was split into two parts: one focused on the art of lacemaking as a whole, the history, technique, tools and material; the second part was an introduction to the Oregon Trail Lacemakers organization, showcasing their materials, photos of the group and information on how to join the group.
”It’s been super well-received,” McGraw said. ”We have a ton of anecdotal stories of people coming up to me or other staff members saying how much they enjoyed it, making lace or watching people make lace.”
One of the photographers associated with the Art Walk stopped by the museum twice to share a personal anecdote with McGraw about his experience with the exhibit. When students visited for the exhibit and scavenger hunt, McGraw said she thought something was wrong because the students were so quiet, but she said they were either making lace or interacting with the exhibit.
One member of the Oregon Trail Lacemakers, Sally Jenkins said that 15 people signed up for her newsletter and four have started as students through the exhibit.
”We have been brought into the spotlight,” Jenkins said. ”Hearing (that 689 people visited) has been eye-opening.”
She added that when she’s been at the museum she would only see handfuls of people come in, but to see it add up is ”amazing.”
”We’ve gotten exposure from large numbers of community people,” she said. ”Having us here in person, making lace, they were able to watch us and see how it was done or try it themselves.”
There were multiple opportunities for visitors to interact with the exhibit and try to make lace themselves. One example was a make-and-take lace bookmark that visitors could do in 20 to 30 minutes; over a dozen people took part.
One of the reasons McGraw thinks the exhibit was so successful was the presence of the Oregon Trail Lacemakers organization.
”That’s what stood out to people,” she said. ”They can talk to lacemakers and watch what their doing and learn from them why it’s important to them.”
Jenkins said that from the perspective of someone who has this information and needed to consolidate it for McGraw, she was ”blown away” by the exhibit.
”(Maddie) is an artist at what she does,” Jenkins said. ”It was beautiful, informative, attractive; people stopped to read the posters she made, and we’re just in awe.”
The high point of the month for Jenkins was being a stop on the Art Walk for their opening night.
”That was astounding,” she said. ”It was really exciting to see all these people come in to see our exhibit.”
She added that all but two of their members had shown up, in costume, and they had even baked ”lace cookies.”
While handmade or bobbin lace isn’t generally widely-known, this experience has helped bring it to the forefront. McGraw said that doing these exhibits is a ”great way to put a spotlight” on community organizations.
”We give them this wonderful place downstairs to share what they do and their connection to Springfield history,” she explained. ”It worked out really well in this case – more than any other collaboration we’ve had.”