Looking Back Through 20 Years At The Clark County Heritage Center
Virginia Weygandt, Clark County Heritage Center Curator Emeritus, looks back on the grand opening of the center 20 years ago.
The Clark County Heritage Center celebrated the 20th anniversary of its opening on March 31. Virginia Weygandt, the center’s curator emeritus, has vivid recollections of the opening and all that went into it — and the joys of her recently completed career. She shared them with WYSO Clark County reporter Tom Stafford.
We often search for truths of the past in the historical fine print. But Virginia Weygandt spent 31 years caring for the objects in the Clark County Historical Society collection — and focused on what they could tell.
“Things you can learn from the written word are very important, but there's whole civilizations who had no written record and all we know about them is the objects,” Weygand says.
Weygand learned another important object lesson, bringing the Clark County Historical Society in line with the terms of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. It’s OK to show the scale of an Native American object in a picture by placing a pencil beside it. But a ruler should never be used.
“The ruler automatically says you're treating this like an anthropological object, rather than a cultural object and a human object,” she says.
The full measure of an object, Weygand says, is its relation to the people who used it. And what was true for them, is true for us. From a baby’s security blanket to a treasured flag that draped the casket of a beloved grandfather, we are intimately connected to and surrounded by objects that define us, literally, cradle to grave.
Weygand was working at the Clark County Historical Society and on her public history degree from Wright State University when the community decided to convert a block long 19th century building into a Heritage Center.
“It took 25 vans, I mean moving vans, to get everything into Thompson Avenue," she remembers. "So it was a big moving experience.”
The Thompson Avenue building was the staging area for the material that consultants used to create museum exhibits. Weygandt took care of the logistics: identifying the objects, arranging for whatever work needed to be done on them, then sending them out to conservators. She recalls the day her understanding of a treasured Conestoga wagon came together just as the wagon was being taken apart for shipping.
“We didn't know that if you take the bed off of the running gear, the bed collapses," she laughs. "Because it was flexible, every time you’d go over a bump, things inside wouldn’t jar so much. You have no springs, so you build it into the way the bed moves as the wheels turn.”
There was more to learn from the conservators who painted the wagon. Not only had they found an old paint recipe, they had found a drawing about the kind of brushes.
For Weygandt, each brush stroke of detail breathed life into the history of the wagon and its makers, while driving home a bigger point.
“They were adapting and using and thinking and planning and experimenting, just like we are," she says. "That creative spirit has not been lacking in other generations or other cultures.”
Nor was it lacking among those involved in the museum project. Weygandt learned the day an overwrought helper breathlessly announced the mounters were defacing a valued historical object with paint.
“They painted the mounts so the mount mimicked the object," she says. "All you saw was the object, not the mount. I just, I was like, oh, I love you.”
She loved as well the way the public received the museum at its grand opening 20 years ago.
“And it was cold. It was March, but it snowed that morning. People stood in line for hours. And I could hear it, it was like this ‘Hey, did you see this over here?’ And, ‘Come on, this is what I found over here.’ And all of the time it was this, ‘Wow, this is cool.’”
She feels much the same about her own career.
“When you’re the curator of a small organization, you get to do everything. I got to do archive work for almost five years before the museum was open. Then, I got to work extensively with these talented, creative people.”
Then the graduate history program at Wright State had a request. Would she teach?
“Oh, really? Why don’t you talk about that? I’m basically a very shy person.”
And, back at the museum, if things ever started to get dull ...
“Someone came through the door with something I'd never seen before. It was like a kid in a candy store.”
And for Virginia Weygandt, that was always a big, moving experience.