- Associated Press - Monday, March 7, 2016

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) - Home still may be where the heart is, but it’s changed dramatically over the years.

Those changes are illustrated in a new exhibit at The History Museum, “At Home: A Short History of Private Life.” The exhibit is based on the best-selling 2010 book of the same name by Bill Bryson.

A stroll through the gallery will leave a visitor with the distinct awareness of how much life in American houses has changed over time as the result of technological advances.

Some visitors may recall their grandmothers relying on some of the early home conveniences on display, including a wringer washer, a Bendix Duomatic combination washer/dryer or early electric vacuum sweepers.

Some of the artifacts will prompt horror from today’s comfort-loving modern generation. Can you image squeezing into a corset, a union suit or subjecting your hair to one of the early electric permanent wave machines?

Still, some of the elegant home items on display prompt a certain longing for a more gracious era: a blue, white and gold china platter, a circa 1915 Tiffany “pond lily” table lamp or a 1920s-style dressing gown.

The exhibit includes more than 200 artifacts, nearly all from the museum’s own collection.

The exhibit takes visitors from a re-created log cabin, a popular style of house when the Indiana frontier was being settled, to the patio of a modern suburban home. Home was a Spartan concept in pioneer days, when the typical log cabin was just a single room of about 15 by 15 feet, and didn’t always include windows.

The exhibit provides a chance to learn more about South Bend’s early apparel industry. There’s an early 1900s man’s white nightshirt made by Wilson Brothers shirt factory, which was in business for decades on Sample Street near Prairie Avenue. And there’s a delightful cardboard cutout of a man in long underwear advertising Stephenson Bros. underwear company, which was based in a factory on South Bend’s East Race.

Visitors can see a 1920s kitchen, complete with an ice box, a black kitchen stove made by the South Bend Malleable Steel Range Co. and a Hoosier-style cabinet. The stove formerly stood in the summer kitchen of Evergreen Hill, an 1873 historic home on Keria Trail in South Bend.

Guests also will see displays of various chair styles, light fixtures, dinnerware, coffee and tea sets, and smoking paraphernalia.

One section of the exhibit that features exotic furniture and heavily draped walls is modeled after the Turkish Room in the former Oliver Hotel in South Bend.

The exhibit was planned by museum’s entire curatorial staff, Brandon Anderson says. The deputy executive director, he read Bryson’s book and suggested an exhibit based on it.

“As soon as I finished reading it, I said, ‘This is totally an exhibit,’ ” Anderson says in an interview. He contacted Bryson’s publisher, Knopf Doubleday, and obtained permission for an exhibit based on the book’s title and concept. It’s the first-ever museum exhibit based on the book, he says.

The exhibit is particularly appropriate for The History Museum, as one of the facility’s most popular attractions is a former home, the 38-room Oliver Mansion house museum. Some of the artifacts in the exhibit are from the Olivers or their descendants.

“The exhibit really complements what we have at the mansion,” Anderson says. “Beside food, in what other ways are we able to connect with people? Through their homes.”

Bryson is an American who has long lived in England and is known for his humorous books about travel. His 1988 book, “A Walk in the Woods,” in 2015 was made into a feature film starring Robert Redford, Nick Nolte and Emma Thompson.

Bryson knows about the museum exhibit, and he and Anderson have exchanged some emails. Although the author is not scheduled to visit South Bend to see the exhibit or participate in any related events, Anderson says he hasn’t given up hope.

The exhibit includes photographs of area houses, both grand and simple, to illustrate architectural styles. During a visit to the gallery last week, those photographs lacked labels with their addresses. And some displays lacked labels identifying objects and their approximate age.

Posting some labels in the exhibit has been delayed because of technology complications, but they will soon go up, Anderson says.

All in all, the exhibit provides a welcome glimpse behind the lace curtains of earlier generations, a glimpse into the area’s past and encouragement to appreciate the comforts of modern life.

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Source: South Bend Tribune, http://bit.ly/1TZy37S

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