Tuesday, October 3, 2023

That's More Than a Museum... It's an Idea Bank!

My wife and I are museum fanatics. We don’t simply amble through the halls, looking for interactive displays that seem like video games for jaded adults. We peer through display-case glass to read exhibit captions and cross-reference them with the artifacts, and we discuss what we see along the way. We especially like to connect the museum’s holdings with antiques we’ve seen in the attics and cellars of our friends. (“See that wringer with a handle? It’s a laundry mangle. Mrs. Bloom used to have one.”)

Occasionally, we’ll find a modest-looking item that’s extremely rare and we wonder what kind of value it would have in the eyes of an “Antiques Road Show” appraiser. It’s all the more interesting if we think we have one like it in our garage. Perhaps we could dust it off and let Sotheby’s auction it for a fortune.

Yet that’s not our main take-away from a museum. We’re looking for ideas that might grow into a magazine article or book manuscript. We find plenty of inspirations in any sizeable museum, and we often use the trip home to brainstorm what we might do with them.

We spent last month in Oklahoma City, which has an extraordinary number of niche museums. After seeing the most popular venues (the Museum of Art, the First Americans Museum, and the Cowboy Museum), we still had our choice of the Female Aviator Museum, the Pigeon Museum, the Skeleton Museum, the Snake and Venom Museum, and lots more.

We learned that the original state capital was in nearby Guthrie, whose spacious Carnegie Library has been converted into a Territorial Museum. It has the sort of exhibits you might expect—about land rushes, Indian treaties, territorial disputes, etc.--but it also has a large exhibit about the state’s various attempts to treat mental illness. There’s a whole room devoted to the state’s most notorious bank robberies, and an exhibit about how the state capital was moved. (Legend has it that the first governor stole the state seal late one night and smuggled it into a rented office in Oklahoma City.)

Don’t underestimate the potential of a good museum. It’s not a reliquary of the dead and dusty past, but an idea bank for creative writers like us. Plan to spend an afternoon at a museum that you have not visited before—and be sure to take a notebook!

Joe Allison writes both fiction and nonfiction, and has been a member of the Indiana chapter of American Christian Fiction Writers since 2010. He lives in Anderson, IN, with his wife Maribeth.