I sat in the back of the room, looked around at all the artworks on the walls and the display case I carefully set up Tuesday night. All the snags and glitches that come with a big project all fell away. I thought, “what must it be like to come and see your own books, artwork, and artifacts that you donated hung on the wall, or under the plexi of a display case?” Items that were once inside your home, in your study, hallway, or living room now presented to a large group of people.
It has got to be strange.
I cannot imagine people looking at my journals, looking at drawings, or the copy of To Kill A Mockingbird I have had for well over 20 years. Does it make you feel important? Or does it cheapen your life, fetishizing it for the masses to “ooh and aahh” at.
As an archivist, historian, art exhibition creator I always think and say, I want to do justice to the historic materials in my care. I want to tell a story through the exhibitions I pull together to connect the past to people living today in order to inform them about where we have been and how far we have come (or have yet to go).
This most recent exhibition of motive magazine, a magazine published by the United Methodist Church’s General Board of Higher Education and Mission, accomplishes that goal. The exhibition is one in which I am very proud. Pride is a rare occurrence when it comes to my day job.
The magazine was published from 1941-1972 by a very forward-thinking, progressive group of people that wanted to improve the future of the the newly developed United Methodist Church. motive asked of its readers to take action. Service to others, immersion and critical thinking about the politics of the day, the arts, philosophy, relationships, sex, civil rights, women, challenging the voice of the majority, and more were all ways to encourage students that read it pages to change the world to make it a more human place.
Nothing was off limits. And everyone who was everyone was in the magazine. From Albert Einstein to Hugh Hefner to Thomas Merton. To say the journal was expansive is an understatement.
I hope I did this exhibition of one of our collections justice through the eyes of those who created this magazine’s history or simply read it. I hope today’s visitors were proud of what they saw on the walls. I thank them for sharing a little piece of their lives with us so that we can live, learn, and explore ways to be better people through the work that they have done.
I guess this is the noble reason why people donate their papers to libraries and archives — to allow others to become better humans.
And maybe, after all, it is not all that awkward for the artifacts’ donors to see books that once lined the walls of their study under the plexiglass, so long as there are pairs of new eyes opened to its story.
To learn more about motive magazine, go to this website. See pictures of the exhibition at the Boston University School of Theology in a future blog post!