Traveling two-part exhibit ambitious in size, information
By Josette Keelor -- email@example.com
WINCHESTER -- It's all too easy to think of the Civil War as a far-removed, moment in history that is not relevant to life in 2012. That's the sort of thinking that facilitators of a four-year-long exhibit hope to dispel.
In honor of the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley will host a two-part exhibit, "An American Turning Point: The Civil War in Virginia," organized by the Virginia Historical Society in partnership with the Virginia Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War Commission. The first part, "Surviving War," runs through June 10. The second, "Waging War," will be at the museum in Winchester from Aug. 3 through Dec. 2.
"We were one of their early choices [of venue]," said Cory Garman, MSV exhibition manager.
The first part of the exhibit focuses on the homefront, he said, and the second part on the battlefield.
"This is the most ambitious project that the society has done related to the Civil War because of the number of places that it has to go to," said Andrew Talkov, head of program development and coordinator of Virginia's Civil War for the historical society.
"We produced an exhibit that could be easily divided in half," Talkov said.
Dividing the exhibit into two parts makes it more manageable for museums that don't have the space to fit the entire exhibit, Talkov said. It also allows the exhibit to reach more people by being in two places at the same time.
MSV is the first stop for "Surviving War," which will travel to six other museums after it leaves Winchester. "Waging War" will begin at Hampton History Museum next Saturday, Talkov said, before it travels to Winchester in August.
The two-part exhibit will end in Roanoke, he said, "And both pieces will be in the same place at the same time."
The entire process has given the historical society flexibility, because the exhibit is not a chronological retelling of the war, which Talkov said would have been too confusing.
"They share a beginning and an ending," he said. "It's more a thematic approach."
It has more of the bells and whistles, he said.
"And by 'bells and whistles' generally I refer to technology," he said.
"Surviving War" features an introductory video and three interactive touch screens that help tell the stories of people in Virginia who experienced the war.
"It's certainly very digestible," Talkov said. Considering that more than 75,000 books have been written about the Civil War -- making 11⁄2 books for every day since Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered, Talkov said -- the historical society and the museum could not possibly have diluted the entire Civil War into one exhibit.
Instead they focused on the major themes, offering stories about people to engage visitors' interest. Talkov hopes that those who visit the exhibit will be encouraged to visit other historical sites in the area.
"Virginia is so unique in this way," he said. "Which for tourism is great."
Winchester itself is included in the exhibit in a painting of Confederate Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson riding his horse onto what is now the Loudoun Street Pedestrian Mall, in front of the old Taylor Hotel.
"That was one of our major goals was to create empathy with the people of the past. ... They were different but the same," said Talkov. "People suffered loss in a variety of ways. ... It's an experience that no living American can really relate to."
Part of the exhibit is the uniform of Charles Munford, whose mother Elizabeth was killed in battle so close to home that she could hear the cannon fire.
Another story tells of former Congressman John Minor Botts, who was arrested and imprisoned for openly challenging the legality of the Confederacy.
"This exhibit focuses more on the human aspect," Garman said.
"It deals with all the major players," he said, but "it also focuses on sort of lesser-known people ... families that were sort of torn [apart], and also the slave experience."
"I think it has a lot to offer," he said.
Talkov said he hoped "to tell a story that represents the Civil War other than soldiers and battlefields."
"It's become more inclusive," Talkov said. "The exhibit will be traveling for four years, so it's a long-term project."
The Museum of the Shenandoah Valley, at 901 Amherst St. in Winchester, will offer the first part of "An American Turning Point: The Civil War in Virginia," through June 10. The museum will accept visitors free next Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. for its annual MSV Day. For more information, visit www.shenandoahmuseum.com or call 662-1473 ext. 235.