Holiday Programming: A Time To Share


It’s that time of year again. Love it or hate it, if you work in a living history museum or a historic house of any type you are likely in the thick of holiday programming. While I work at a computer-focused job now, I recall fondly the days of making wreaths and decorating houses and watching the lanterns glow.

My own waxing nostalgic aside, I wonder, how is holiday programming going for many of you in the field? Is this time of year a great visitation boost? Do visitors want the familiar or have you been looking for ways to freshen up your offerings? Are you doing anything different to attract a larger, and perhaps new, audience?

Please share what is working at your site and any new ideas you’re implementing and . . .  take care during this holiday season.

–Deb Arenz

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A Chair No One Sits On


Lonely Chair.

The article Honest Museum Audio Tour from The New Yorker is a quick read and quite funny.  Having worked in museums my entire adult life and visited countless others, I related to much of the commentary in the author’s made-up audio tour: “Note this intricately carved chair, which was made in 1573. The first person to have sat in it is long dead. Now no one is allowed to sit in it.” Yep, I’ve thought that. I’ve also seen the Mona Lisa and the experience was disappointing. In my case also smelly what with it being summer and the plumbing overflowing in the nearby bathroom and the hoards of sweaty people with their arms raised to capture images on their phones to prove they were there.

Levity aside, the article got me thinking about museums I’ve worked in and visited lately and how I might construct an Honest Museum Audio Tour for each:

This is a tractor rusting on a lawn. There’s no way a farmer would allow such a valuable and expensive piece of machinery to deteriorate like that but we don’t have the money to run and maintain it. Hey look, there’s a cute calf, why not go feed it.

Here is an interpreter making a fabulous smelling meal. They’ll tell you all about it but you can’t eat any of it.

This is a quilt. Here’s an extensive history of it’s ownership with lots of dates that will make you want to curl up and take a nap under it.

Of course, those of us who work in museums know that there are all sorts of reasons why things are the way they are BUT it might do us some good to occasionally create our own Honest Museum Audio Tours. After we’re done laughing we might just realize where we need to make some changes.

–Deb Arenz

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Giving Tuesday. Remember ALHFAM.



From ALHFAM President, Tom Kelleher:

I am sure you will agree that this has been an eventful year. . . ALHFAM launched a new and more functional website, with full access for members to the ALHFAM Skills and Knowledge Base (ASK), improved membership management and up-to-date membership directories, and full access and services for our many Institutional Associate members. . . we have an updated logo . . .(and) many of us enjoyed a week of southern hospitality courtesy of the Louisiana Rural Life Museum at the annual ALHFAM conference in Baton Rouge.  Others have attended recent regional meetings of the Western Canada, Southeast, Mid-Atlantic, Western, Midwest and Mountain/Plains Regions, or a retreat hosted by the First Person Interpreters’ Professional Interest Group.   As wonderful as our Bulletin, e-Update, website and ALHFAM-L discussion list are, there is nothing like gathering together to learn from and share with skilled colleagues and wise kindred spirits.

Sadly each year we lose some of our beloved friends, including most recently Webmaster Blake Hayes and former Board Member Barry Herlihy, among others.  While ALHFAM will not be quite the same without them, the organization is what it is in large part because of them.

Today is Giving Tuesday in the United States and Canada.  It was created as a way for folks to give back, as a response to the crass consumerism of the modern holiday season. Therefore I take this opportunity to ask you to please number the Association for Living History, Farm and Agricultural Museums among the deserving causes that you support.

ALHFAM members have a passion for bringing history to life.  You know the positive impact it has on people, especially the young. Our organization fosters, shares and preserves the knowledge and skills that make this possible. The ALHFAM board is committed to keeping membership accessible to all who toil in our chosen field. We remain the most affordable and useful professional affiliation around.  Yet even in a volunteer-driven organization such as ours, services to members including publications such as the ALHFAM Bulletin and Annual Conference Proceedings; hosting a website and the ALHFAM on-line discussion list; the searchable ALHFAM Skills & Knowledge Base; advocating for support of the museums and programs where we practice history; and nurturing emerging professionals and seasoned practitioners alike through affordable regional and annual conferences, come at a cost. These and other member services simply cannot be covered by basic ALHFAM membership dues alone.

I realize that there are many worthy causes deserving your support. Please make ALHFAM one of them.  A handy “Donate to ALHFAM” button at the bottom of our homepage makes it simple. As a non-profit tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization, contributions to ALHFAM beyond basic membership dues are tax deductible. No contribution is too small!

Or consider upgrading your membership to the Supporting or Patron level.  Or grow the ALHFAMily by giving an ALHFAM membership to a friend as a gift

Thank you for your support, and I wish you and yours a prosperous and very happy season.



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Women’s Rights, Niagara Falls, Museum Hack, Jell-O, and a 19th Century Country Village (all in one conference)

Can you believe these are just a few of the spokes in the wheel that will be the  ALHFAM 2017 Annual Meeting and Conference? Honestly, I’m ready to go based on just this alone. However, as we all know, ALHFAM conferences feature so much more: hands-on training and workshops, interesting and engaging sessions, and excellent events for networking and fellowship.


The Genesee Country Village and Museum is serving as our gracious (and hardworking) host for the meeting/conference.

Intrigued? Take a look at all the great info about the conference on the ALHFAM website conference page, send in a session proposal, and most of all SAVE THE DATE (which is June 9-13 in Mumford, NY about 20 minutes from Rochester).

–Deb Arenz

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The ALHFAM Ag Map is Growing!

Have you checked out the ALHFAM Historic Agriculture Resources Map? If not, you should. Available for about a year, the map continues to expand and include more resources.


A screenshot of the Ag Map. It’s organized by resource type and is easy to search by keyword or by region.

The map features information about ALHFAM members that have and/or use historic agricultural collections and techniques. It was created to help us share our historic agricultural assets with each other and the general public. The map is keyword searchable so if you’d like to know which other sites grow pumpkins or use oxen (or whatever interests you), the information is at your fingertips.

Inclusion in the map is available to ALHFAM members only, but feel free to share the link freely with anyone who may be interested. If you would like to have your institution featured in the map, please email

–Deb Arenz


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Making the Most of the Maker Movement

As one of those rapidly aging Baby Boomers, inventing and building things were staples of my childhood. Sure, we had TV (but only one), but Mom would throw us out of the house after a couple of hours of Saturday morning cartoons with instructions to “Go do something.” We had grand adventures exploring the creek, hiking through the pastures, building forts or taking things apart to see how they worked. Admittedly that last one sometimes got us into trouble.

You learned how to build things, and you learned how to repair things by helping the adults around you. At least this was true for those of us who lived in the country.  If something broke you figured out how to fix it or you found a neighbor to help you. Now part of that was because, like most farm families, funds were limited, but more than that, people like my dad truly enjoyed building and fixing things. Somewhere along the way we traded the satisfaction of making something ourselves for cheap, mass-produced, thrown-away items.

But that might just be changing. The Maker Movement has been around for a few years and is gaining in popularity. This is a community of DIYS (do-it-yourselfers). This seems to be a group just waiting to be tapped by our living history sites. Many who would like to learn how to make things no longer know where to go to find the knowledge.  Our sites can be their resource.  I just took a quick look at MAKE, the movement’s magazine, and in a quick glance found the following articles:  “8 Tips and Techniques for Making Homemade Cheese,” “Building a Child-Sized Kayak from a Single Sheet of Plywood,” “Crochet a Wonder Woman-Inspired Coaster Set,” and my personal favorite, “Building a Pumpkin Throwing Trebuchet.” Sounds like a great post-Halloween activity with the grandkids! Their website has how-to videos on blacksmithing and knife making.

Trebuchet kit available at Makershed

Trebuchet kit available at Makershed

You can also find step-by-step instructions for making this battleax prop. So many of the ideas are adaptable for exhibit/interpretation use.

You can also find step-by-step instructions for making this battleax prop. So many of the ideas are adaptable for exhibit/interpretation use.

What a possible treasure trove of new volunteers waiting to be tapped! The Maker Movement organizes Maker Faires around the globe. These are usually two-day events for the community to come together to share exhibits, knowledge, and skills.  Have any of your sites participated in a Maker Faire or maybe even hosted one?  I would love to hear about your experience.

–Kathy Dickson

ALHFAM board member Kathy Dickson is the director of Museums and Historic Sites for the Oklahoma Historical Society. She stumbled into the museum field over 30 years ago and never left.

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Ideas on Preserving and Sharing Collections

Uniform worn by Second Lieutenant Myron Aubineau of Flagstaff, Arizona during WWI. Photo courtesy of Sharlot Hall Museum.

Uniform worn by Second Lieutenant Myron Aubineau of Flagstaff, Arizona during WWI. Photo courtesy of Sharlot Hall Museum.

While ALHFAM is not an exhibit-oriented organization, some of its members deal with collections on a daily basis whether it is storage, care, loan or exhibition. Pieces from collections are used as patterns to reproduce that item so that it might, in some sense, provide an “up close and personal” experience for visitors when the original, for whatever reason, is cannot be on exhibit, or perhaps continuously on exhibit.  The sharing of our collections with the public, which is one of the reasons we have them, then becomes a check list of things that have to be answered before any action can be taken.

In a semi-recent post, someone shared the following: While it deals with artifact captions in an electronic rather than traditional printed format, it brings up the question of whether an enhanced electronic exhibition of certain artifacts would benefit the public in a static exhibit. This is not to suggest doing away with three- dimensional objects in exhibits but rather give sites the opportunity to have more on exhibit than space would permit if all that was used were the physical artifacts themselves.

As an example, I am currently working on an exhibit on how World War One affected the people of Arizona. We have in the collection three attributed Army pilot’s uniforms as well as other pieces of uniforming and equipment. Space allows only one of these to be on exhibit; however each is interesting in its own right. While there is the option of changing them through the year’s duration of the exhibit, it is not practical from the perspective of staff time.

The thought is to have the other two uniforms digitally photographed from all sides and then use a program to give a rotating view of them so that they can be viewed from the front, back and sides. While this is not the perfect solution from the visitor’s point of view, it would allow them to see pieces of the collection that would not be on exhibition. Another way to do this would be to put the digital images on an inexpensive media player and allow the images to scroll through in a three-dimensional side show.

This is not a revolutionary idea, but does present possibilities for giving access to parts of the collection that would otherwise not be available to the public.

Feel free to share the interesting ways you make your collections available when not on exhibit.

Mick Woodcock

Mick Woodcock is Chief Curator at the Sharlot Hall Museum in Arizona, ALHFAM Western Region Representative, and recipient of ALHFAM’s prestigious Schlebecker Award in 2015.

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