Some of you might have heard that we are in the process of re-conceptualizing the Toyota Hall of Governors off of Commonwealth Hall in our building. If you have visited recently – say, last week when we reopened to the walk-in public after our 1st seasonal closing – then you would have noticed the walls are bare in that hall. Where have all of our governor’s portraits gone? We took them down to get ready for the redesign. They are currently in museum storage, some are being photographed and all are being checked over and just generally rested. The walls are currently being cleaned and prepped and the room itself looks VERY large and empty.
What now? The exhibits staff, with input from various advisors, is currently finishing up the exhibit script – yep, think of it like a play, all of the characters have lines – and finalizing images to include with the text and also, which oral history clips to help illustrate who these governors were and what their time in office meant for the state. A few big questions floating around is what does it mean to be a governor in Kentucky? How has that role changed over the last 200+ years? How does a governor get elected? How do they accomplish things once in office? How do party politics play into this whole process and what are the individual legacies of specific governors? Every question that is discussed brings up 10 more to be answered. As with every exhibit, the information gathered way exceeds the space available to share. For every governor, we are looking at about 50 words to sum all of these questions up. Pretty big challenge, how would you do it?
As for my part, I have been working (along side our wonderful intern, Marcy Werner) on sorting through our oral history collections to attempt to find interviews that help illustrate (concisely) the points being made in the script. So, out of a 3 hour interview, I am looking for 30 second clips. Or, in the case of Governor Combs – out of something like 8 hours of video interview from the raw footage of a documentary, we are
looking for a 30 second clip. I have to say, both Marcy and I feel like we have had a crash course in the complexities of Kentucky politics. We have listened to legislators, special interest groups, state workers (the list goes on) all of which have opinions and experiences with these governors. For me, at least, it has really made these powerful folks (not just men, remember Martha Layne Collins! ) more real and definitely more human.
So, when you come to KHS for a visit, maybe even on Boone Day when the exhibit will first open, check out the text, examine the images of documents, artifacts and people and listen to the oral history clips. Then think about what else you might like to know about these individuals or their terms in office. Come up to the library and check out our books, check out our manuscript collections and definitely listen to more than 30 seconds of our oral histories. It is definitely worth your time.
Images, top left, KHS collection. 1904.2. Governor Thomas Metcalfe (1828-32) of Nicholas County. (I have to admit, one of my favorite portraits down there, completely for the hair-SM) above left, KHS collection. 1975.17. Governor Bert T. Combs (1959-63) of Clay County. above right, KHS collection. 1988.4.3. Governor Martha Layne (Hall) Collins (1983-87) of Shelby and Woodford Counties.