After months of community-wide planning and organizing, “The Way We Worked,” a Smithsonian Institution Museum on Main Street traveling exhibition, will open on Saturday, April 1 at Chestertown’s Sumner Hall. The traveling exhibition, adapted from an original exhibition developed by the National Archives, explores how work became such a central element in American culture by tracing the many changes that affected the workforce and work environments over the past 150 years.
Over the next seven weeks, Sumner Hall and its principal partner in the project, Washington College’s C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience, will feature companion exhibitions and programming across the county highlighting Kent County’s work history.
The companion exhibition at Sumner Hall, “The Black Labor Experience in Kent County,” will feature four components: the story of the founders of Sumner Hall and the 471 African Americans who served with the Union forces during the Civil War; an exploration of the contribution of free and enslaved labor in Kent County from the Revolutionary War-era through the end of the 19th century; a tools of the trades exhibition, developed by Washington College students, that explores the role of traditional farm, fishing, household, and office tools in understanding local history; and contemporary work stories, reflections from Kent County comprised of over 50 oral history interviews gathered by Washington College and Kent County High School students. There will also be a Kids Corner with hands-on activities for young children.
The Starr Center will offer related special events including a keynote lecture on April 14 by Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America; an original musical and multi-media performance on May 18, “Choppin’ at the Shop,” developed and produced by Marlon Saunders; and walking tours exploring the labor history of Chestertown. In addition, more than 15 other venues across the county are hosting exhibits, lectures, concerts, discussions, and programs celebrating workers in the community. Students from local primary and secondary schools, as well as college classes, will be visiting the exhibitions.
The project is a springboard for community and campus collaboration. At Washington College, students, as well as staff and faculty from Library and Academic Technology, Kohl Gallery, Center for Career Development, Center for Environment and Society, Departments of English and History, and the Dean’s Office are developing exhibitions and leading programs, as well as offering expertise.
“I have never seen a community history project that has brought so many diverse people and organizations together,” says C.V. Starr Center Deputy Director Patrick Nugent. “From leaders at Maryland Humanities and the Smithsonian, to Sumner Hall volunteers and Washington College students, to dozens of county organizations and hundreds of local residents, this project has brought the community together to discuss the history of labor and race in Kent County.”
Nina Johnson, executive director of Sumner Hall, says, “It has been a rewarding experience to see how our collaboration with Washington College, the Kent County Public Schools, the Historical Society of Kent County, RiverArts, the Sultana Educational Foundation, the Museums of Kent, the Kent County Public Library, and other local schools, organizations, and businesses has resulted in an exciting menu of educational and cultural programs across the county. While we are proud of all these offerings, our companion exhibition that showcases the contributions of Kent County African American workers from the 1650s to the present is especially important. The Way We Worked initiative has truly been a win-win experience for everyone.”
“The Way We Worked” will be on view at Sumner Hall April 1–May 20, 2017, and during that time, Sumner Hall will be open Tuesdays–Thursdays (9:00 am– 1:00 pm); Fridays (noon-7:00 pm); Saturdays (9 am-4:00 pm); and Sundays (noon-4:00 pm). Sumner Hall is located at 206 South Queen Street in Chestertown, Maryland. Learn more at sumnerhall.org or by contacting Nina Johnson, firstname.lastname@example.org or 443-282-0023, or Jean Wortman, assistant director at the Starr Center, email@example.com or 410-810-7165.
“The Way We Worked” has been made possible in Maryland by Maryland Humanities and is part of Museum on Main Street, a collaboration between the Smithsonian Institution and State Humanities Councils nationwide. The Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service brings high-quality traveling exhibits to small communities through their own Main Street museums, historical societies, and other cultural venues. Residents enthusiastically engage with exhibition content, and diverse community members come together to share and celebrate their heritage. Support for Museum on Main Street has been provided by the United States Congress.
About Washington College
Founded in 1782, Washington College is the tenth oldest college in the nation and the first chartered under the new Republic. It enrolls approximately 1,450 undergraduates from more than 35 states and a dozen nations. With an emphasis on hands-on, experiential learning in the arts and sciences, and more than 40 multidisciplinary areas of study, the College is home to nationally recognized academic centers in the environment, history, and writing. Learn more at washcoll.edu.