- Associated Press - Thursday, May 19, 2016

DEVILS LAKE, N.D. (AP) - The Lake Region Heritage Center, established in 1974, recently hired a new director in order to reintroduce those from the region to the museum’s collection of the area’s history.

Rachel Johnson, formerly of the Springfield Art Museum in Springfield, Missouri, took over the position on April 5. Since then, Johnson has worked to breathe new life into the Heritage Center, the Devils Lake Journal (https://bit.ly/1YzKbwy ) reported.

“We hope that if people haven’t been here in a while, they’ll come in,” Johnson said. “I know that for a few years (attendance) had kind of settled down, so we’re really trying to refresh (our collection). We hope people come and visit.”

In her pursuit to reinvigorate the center, Johnson has searched the museum’s vaults for items that reflect the region’s history and may have been overlooked in the recent past.

“I want us to really dig into what we have and put out some stuff that’s probably never been displayed before,” Johnson said.

The new director’s first contribution is a wedding dress, over a century old, that a staff member located while seeking items that Johnson determined may deserve a second look.

The vintage dress satisfies two factors that Johnson deems important to the nature of the artifacts on display: significance to the history of the region and a personal touch.

“The owner of (the dress), Ethel Powers, wore it not only on her wedding, but on her 25th and 50th wedding anniversaries,” Johnson said. “She and her husband lived in Ramsey County their entire lives.

“The thing that’s cool about this is that we know about the person who wore it, and sometimes things that have that really personal feel are easy to make a connection to,” Johnson continued. “So I’d like to find things that were either connected to an individual, or art pieces that were made by individuals from the area, just to show what the history of the area is, and the artistic styles that exist.”

Furthering her search has required that Johnson range outside of the museum’s basement in order to find satisfactory display pieces.

“Outside of our permanent collection, which is stuff that the museum already owns, I’ve been in touch with regional arts councils and different cultural institutions in the area, including Fort Totten,” Johnson said. (I’m) trying to reach out to different cultural feelings in the area.

“I’ve gotten a lot of responses, and even if I haven’t had time to meet people just yet, I’ve been trying to make connections,” Johnson added. “Everybody has been really accommodating.”

Those who are new to the region or haven’t visited the Heritage Center can learn about the region’s history from the current collection. Included in the current array of artifacts is a DLVD fire engine that dates from 1883, which was deployed in response to a fire that destroyed half of the Devils Lake business district.

Also on display is an area dedicated to pieces that reflect the history of Fort Totten, including a brief biography of Chief Tiyowaste of the Devils Lake Reservation, who died in 1919 at the age of 94.

Johnson hopes to attract young visitors who may not have been exposed to the museum by offering free visits to school groups from around the region. She also left open the possibility of groups perhaps visiting during off-hours.

“We do cover the entry of several school groups a year. So if there are any teachers who want their class to come in, we can probably cover their admission,” Johnson said. “If somebody wants (to visit) after hours, they can get in touch and we’ll figure it out.”

The Heritage Center is open Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. They will add an extra day this summer, opening Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. after Memorial Day.

Johnson hopes her efforts help bring visitors back to the museum. “We’d love for people to come in and check out what’s new.”


Information from: Devils Lake Journal, https://www.devilslakejournal.com

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