‘Pop-Up Museum’ pops up for SW Seattle Historical Society

Story and photos by Katie Meyer
Reporting for West Seattle Blog

A pumpkin, photographs, and plats on a map were some of the items shared when attendees at Saturday’s Southwest Seattle Historical Society meeting were introduced to Michelle DelCarlo‘s concept of a “pop-up museum.”

DelCarlo, a University of Washington graduate student in Museology, explained how her themed pop-up museum can influence how museums see themselves, and can assist them in creating a deeper relationship with their community. An informal, interactive pop-up museum helps museums engage people – it’s DelCarlo’s “experiment in community building and the creation of meaningful experiences.” The mission is to create conversations between people of all ages and all walks of life.

(Michelle DelCarlo, left, at the start of her “Thanksgiving” theme pop-up museum)
A pop-up museum is based solely on the content provided by the people who show up to participate, and after it ends, everyone takes their items home with them. The theme for the meeting at West Seattle (Admiral) Library was “Thanksgiving” and SWHS meeting participants had been asked in advance to bring something that was meaningful to them, and write on a small sheet of paper ( the “label”) why that object is meaningful, then place the object and label on a table.

Some participants drew pictures as their contribution, others brought fresh-baked bread with a story of the recipe’s history in their family. Children brought photographs and wrote stories for them. The conversations that sprang up as people shared memories and told additional stories quickly grew:

The label on that one reads: “When I was growing up in Seattle our family always went to my Aunt Grace’s house for Thanksgiving dinner. She and her husband Charlie lived in a house about 2 blocks from West Seattle High School. The photograph was probably taken in 1953 or 43, with Great Aunt Grace and Uncle Charlie sitting at the head of the table. Around the table are grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. In the ’40s, Aunt Grace and Uncle Charlie invited servicemen, too. One year the turkey was so big, Uncle Charlie had to tie the oven door shut! –Edie

Beneath a photo of two little boys, Clara Peterson‘s label read, “When my cousin was seven, at Thanksgiving we were all going around the table and saying what we were thankful for and he said, ‘I am thankful for everything except for nerds and jerks’.”

Audrey brought a vintage metal food mill, with a wood handle; it was once bolted to a table or counter as “Every year my dad made the cranberry relish fresh by grinding cranberries, apples & oranges. He added sugar to taste. It came out different every year. I have carried on the tradition.”

One man brought antique maps of West Seattle, including the one shown here, a “Plat of West Seattle Land and Improvements Company’s Platted Lands” dated 1890. Folks gazed as the maps were unrolled, chatting about differences between the plans for the area versus how the area has developed. One person pointing to a spot along the water, musing that their family once had a plot “right along there.”

SWSHS President Marcy Johnsen approved mightily of the pop-up museum idea, noting that it really engaged local community members to share their own history and memories in a casual setting under the auspices of a museum – and without the concern some might have about loaning something precious to them to a museum, as the “pop-up” can be held for just a day, or even a few hours. Johnsen was enthused about coordinating future pop-up museums for the community, with the SWSHS and Log House Museum.

(SWSHS members learning the stories behind items at a “Thanksgiving” theme pop-up museum)
That little pumpkin shown above will be making a family history soon – its label from Jennifer read, “A new tradition for me is to bake pumpkin pies for the family meal. But this is the first year I have grown my own pumpkins! Can’t wait.”

3 Replies to "'Pop-Up Museum' pops up for SW Seattle Historical Society "

  • Chris November 17, 2011 (2:30 pm)

    Excellent idea! Especially as one of our activities for our town’s (Red Hook, New York) Bicentennial next year. How many people participated and over what length of time?

  • Michelle DelCarlo November 17, 2011 (3:01 pm)

    Hi Chris! This is Michelle DelCarlo, of The Pop-Up Museum. This pop-up was for about an hour with roughly 20 people participating. You can email me further questions at delcarlo@uw.edu.

  • Colin November 23, 2011 (6:39 pm)

    Great idea! I was wondering does this get funded and if not where could someone help out with funding for future Seattle based pop-up museums? Any sports one’s in the works? Thanks

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