A nation's journeys, on display at Walla Walla museum

A traveling Smithsonian exhibit at the Kirkman House Museum explores our shared history and culture of migration.

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Contemporary journeys continue to build the story of the U.S. as well as that of the Smithsonian's Journey Stories exhibit.

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A panel in traveling exhibit at the Kirkman House Museum shoes a scene from the 1930s migration from the Dust Bowl to the West Coast.

WALLA WALLA -- It makes sense that a nationally acclaimed museum exhibit that explores the mobility of Americans should itself move around for viewing across the nation.

And that is why earlier this month 14 black rolling storage crates, each at least the size of a washing machine, were unloaded and stored in the carriage house of Kirkman House Museum.

"I have to say I was a little out of shape when I unloaded all those boxes," Executive Director Kirsten Schober joked.

But a quick scan of the weight of each crate, most of them around 200 pounds and some close to 300, made it clear there was some heavy work involved with moving in and setting up the Journey Stories exhibit, which debuted to the public Saturday.

Even more impressive was the two days and three people it took to follow 97 pages of instructions, which detailed to a T how every exhibit had to be placed.

"Well I was good to follow them (the instructions), but the guys, they tried to go off on their own," Schober noted.

Eventually the panels were set up and placed in almost every room of the museum. And of the few remaining rooms, Isabella's room, the sewing room, the storage room and Schober's office are now being used to store the furniture that had to be moved out to make room for the panels.

And even though the exhibit is now officially in place and open for viewing, Schober said there may still be some lighting issues.

"We want them to experience the lighting the way it would have been, and gas lighting is not as bright as electric," Schober said. But the dim lighting was a little too low to fully compliment the exhibit. So now Schober is considering higher wattage bulbs.

The installation has been a momentous task for museum staff, one that not only required hard work and days to install, but training seminars and an application process in which many museums from the Pacific Northwest applied but only a handful were chosen to house the panels.

At one point Schober thought it was almost too much work, until she attended the training seminars and saw for herself the sheer magnitude of Journey Stories.

"When we went over and saw how involved it was, I was very glad we did this," Schober said.

There is perhaps one name that can best summarize the scope of the exhibit that has taken over Kirkman House Museum: Smithsonian.

It took a team from the Smithsonian years to research, compile and create the Journey Stories exhibit. And as is to be expected with the name Smithsonian, it is far more than just a collection of panels.

So what makes Journey Stories a must-see?

It is a glimpse of the travels of people of this country. From trains to travoises to treks by foot, it is an impressive interactive display of historical photos and paintings that both meld into the very panels that hold them and jump out in dimensional flip books that invite the viewer to turn the pages.

Visually speaking, it is multifaceted and multileveled.

The result is that a viewer should not expect to saunter through this exhibit in 20 minutes. Even an hour would be too short. But at the same time, if all you have is a lunch break, this exhibit is one in which you can walk in and focus on one aspect of the history of our mobility, such as the arrival of the conquistadors, the forced mobility of the slave trade, or the flight from poverty during the Great Depression.

And the exhibit has plenty of audio interaction, with engrossing first-hand narratives read by professional actors.

There are also a number of displays built into the panels and numerous historical artifacts, and in short this opportunity is a chance to experience a Smithsonian exhibit without having to take a journey to Washington, D.C.

And there is even a point of local history that has made this national exhibit. The story of Narcissa Whitman was included because her arrival helped encourage other husband-and-wife teams to journey to the Oregon Territory.

To experience this Smithsonian exhibit in your own back yard, journey to the Kirkman House Museum, 214 N. Colville St., Wednesday-Saturday 10-4 p.m., Sunday 1-4 p.m.

More information on Journey Stories and the opportunity to post your own personal or family journey narratives is available at www.journeystories.org.

Journey Stories runs through April 30.

Alfred Diaz can be reached at alfreddiaz@wwub.com or 526-8325.

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