Festival researched for upcoming exhibitPair from Minnesota Historical Society examines our community’s diversity WORTHINGTON — There’s only so much education that comes from reading books and research papers. When it comes down to it, the best lessons are the first-hand experiences of being “where it all comes together.”
By: Julie Buntjer, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — There’s only so much education that comes from reading books and research papers. When it comes down to it, the best lessons are the first-hand experiences of being “where it all comes together.”
Worthington’s reputation as a melting pot of cultures and traditions — many of them showcased Friday and Saturday during the 17th annual International Festival — helped lure a couple of special guests to town this weekend. Though they had hoped to maintain a somewhat secret presence, their appearance was met with a bit of excitement.
Brad Thiel and Ellen Miller help establish displays for the Minnesota Historical Society in St. Paul. He’s an exhibit designer and she’s a developer, and together they visited the International Festival to get the flavor of immigration in rural Minnesota in the 21st Century.
Though still in the preliminary stage of a project that will ultimately tell the story of “Our Minnesota,” Thiel said the International Festival provides an “interesting way of looking at the immigration on Minnesota’s prairie.”
Miller was quick to add that the exhibit, slated to open in late 2012 or early 2013, will provide a broad glimpse of immigration in the state, going back to the Scandinavian and German immigration of the 19th Century.
“In the most broadest way, we’re looking for a story,” said Miller, who spearheaded the visit to Worthington after spending time in the community a couple of years ago. On that occasion, she dined at Queen of Sheba, an Ethiopian restaurant in the former Thompson Hotel building downtown. She was impressed by the food, the people and the historic locale.
“I’ve been taken with this whole sort of southwest section of the state, but we thought Worthington was an interesting subject because a quarter of its population is new immigrants,” Miller said.
“You have all sorts of ethnicities coming here, and that history continues,” added Thiel.
He said they’ve identified three focal points for the exhibit — the prairie, the forest and the cities that make up the state.
“I think the southwestern part of the state has some great material,” he said. “I think one of the points, too, is you see a vibrant downtown (in Worthington), which isn’t necessarily the case across southwest Minnesota.”
Already in the exhibit’s outline for the prairie region is a telling of how the towns developed along the railroad. A 19th Century sod house is planned — an idea that grew from manuscripts in the MHS archive from the Rollag family of Rock County and interactive exhibits are planned to tell the story of the people of southwest Minnesota.
“This is a very experiential exhibit,” Miller added.
The Minnesota exhibit will be specifically targeted to K-12 school students, but Thiel said the majority of the students who visit the museum for class trips are in fourth through eighth grade, when schools focus on Minnesota history.
“We want the exhibit to reflect those visitors,” he said. “Having new immigrants represented in the exhibit is a great way to keep those kids involved and interested.”
“The Twin Cities is a lot like Worthington, and people have to be able to recognize themselves,” added Miller.
Work on the project initially began in January, with much of the work now being done in establishing contacts and getting ideas for the big picture.
“In-depth research will happen later, as we get a sense of where we’re going,” said Thiel. “We’ve got so much to cover in an exhibit on Minnesota regions.”
“And only 14,000 square feet (of space),” Miller added. “It seems big, but not really.”