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Concord Museum lets others do the picking for new 'crowdsourced' show

Posted by Leslie Anderson  November 2, 2011 03:14 PM

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Photo by Betsy Levinson

There’s so much to take in at the Concord Museum’s 125th birthday exhibit that it’s hard to know where to look first.

Do you walk around the perimeter of the exhibition rooms looking at the historic artifacts and read about who chose them, or do you pause and consider the “word cloud” on the wall outside? Or do you sit at a laptop and peruse the collection on computer and pick the item that you especially like and say why?

The exhibit, called “Crowdsourcing a Collection,” is the brainchild of museum public relations Director Carol Haines. The title refers to going out into the community of museum and history lovers and asking them to choose an item in the museum’s collection and write a paragraph or two about why they chose it.

There’s also a “word cloud,” where words are painted on a museum wall in a size proportional to the number of times it is used in an object’s description. For instance, the word “Concord” is printed very large relative to the other words; as are the names “Thoreau,” and “Emerson,” while other descriptive words are smaller.

In the second-floor exhibit rooms, David Sibley, author and illustrator of The Sibley Guide to Birds, chose the iconic lantern used to warn the Colonial settlers that the British were coming to attack by sea. He chose the lantern because he said he is surprised that two simple candles could be seen from the Old North Church all the way to the Boston harbor. He remarked how different the night sky is today from that of 1775.

Sen. John Kerry chose a small profile image of Margaret Fuller who was an early and fervent advocate for women’s rights. Author Doris Kearns Goodwin chose a large chunk of the Old North Bridge, and the Mayor of Concord’s sister city, Nanae, Japan, chose an old wooden plow used to work the town’s plentiful arable land. West Concord resident Dot Higgins chose a six-pack of Concord Pale Ale which was bottled during the town’s 375th birthday earlier this year.

Also on display are Thoreau’s simple wood desk at which he penned “Civil Disobedience,” Haines said, and the writing armchair that belonged to Ralph Waldo Emerson, selected by Walden Woods. Selectman Elise Woodward and author Nathaniel Philbrick chose an early American painting of the center of Concord.

The exhibit will be up until mid-March 2012 and is worth a visit. Haines said she heard of the idea for crowdsourcing from other museums, and the idea is catching on. She said she purposely went beyond the staff and board to get a cross-section of men and women who are not involved with the museum in their daily lives.

At the 125th birthday celebration, admission was free, and cake and cider were available on the lawn while the “Stoneybatter Band” played spirited music.

Also, museum education staffer Marilyn Raleigh sat at a table in the lobby helping people make corn husk dolls.

Exhibit sponsors are WGBH and the Skinner auction house. Middlesex Bank sponsored the birthday bash.

Betsy Levinson can be reached at betsy.levinson@gmail.com

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