The exhibit had a good run and it is now closed. All the items mounted in the display will come down today. Other artifacts, such as over 150 original blueprints and drawings, as well as over 1000 original documents, and over 300 historical photos are going back into storage or returned to their owners.
(Blueprints and drawings, spread out in my living room, being checked, sorted and readied to be returned or put back in storage.)
The exhibit ran approximately six months, and during that time, visitors were able to view the only comprehensive collection of artifacts and documents of this fine architect’s career that has even been offered. Several hundred unique and rare items were either on display, made available for viewing in one of our special events or available for private study by other fans or scholars.
I am satisfied by the turnout, and by the comments of many – some who were very knowledgeable experts on the Prairie School – many who were previously unaware of Van Bergen’s contribution – who walked away revising their own views about the history of that architectural period and style.
A few visitors were blown away by the number of documents, and by the fact that I had been able to put such a comprehensive collection together over the past 15 or so years! Before I started this project, all other previous scholars and fans, if you will, of the Prairie School (or Prairie Style) had been deterred from studying this architect’s work by their collective assumption that it was impossible to piece together his long past life and career – that most of it would be forever lost to history.
There were also a handful of detractors who visited the exhibit and browsed some of the collection, all of whom were unhappy that the exhibit, and how it was presented, did not, by omission, pay homage to the best known of the Prairie School architects, Frank Lloyd Wright. That reaction was not unexpected because, just by seeing in front of them the straightforward and simple presentation of the documents, history and photographs in the exhibit, which demonstrated the unique contributions of a previously ignored architect, they were forced to rethink some of the canon of the history they thought they knew. I enjoyed their visits and feedback as much as the others who came. It saddened me a bit that there were yet other detractors would not attend at all, because they already had preconceived notions, and were not even open mined enough to have their views challenged.
Most others who viewed the exhibit seemed delighted to see something unexpected and new to them. A few were awed by being able to handle and study closely some of the rare drawings, letters and other personal items of Van Bergen.
My only regret is that many of the rare items on loan for the exhibit, once they are returned may never again be seen. These things have a tendency to permanently disappear or degenerate over time if they are not contained in a collection or museum with the resources to properly store and conserve them. Some things that were loaned for this exhibit were subsequently given to me to be part of the permanent collection, for which I am extremely and humbly grateful, and which I am now preparing for eventual donation to an institution that will make the entire collection accessible to future scholars. Hopefully someone down the road will add to and enhance the work that I’ve already done. And hopefully, they’ll also be able to make a dollar or two from it, which has evaded me. This has been an expensive hobby, and as I look at the effort and cost it will take to properly catalog, digitize and do proper conservation of all the historical materials, I am happy to pass it along to someone else with deeper pockets.
As I said, it’s been a good run. And in the past 15 years, it’s opened some doors for me, and enabled me to meet some great people I never would have otherwise. That’s the big win.
Here is a final video as I walked through the exhibit space showing the items and photos mounted on the display walls. I took this for future reference in case I ever want to recreate the exhibit. As you can see, the exhibit space is already being readied for some musical recitals and concerts that will be taking place in the next few weeks. This is something new, and is part of an effort to broaden the role of the History Museum, and have it also be an important cultural center in the Barrington area.
I am extremely grateful to the Barrington History Museum for partnering with me and allowing me to use their first class exhibit space for such an extended period. It has allowed me to build a resume for the collection, and myself, that will be invaluable to both.