Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Outposts of Memory

By Chris Rossi, Associate Curator of Exhibitions

It is easy to think of the New York State Historical Association (NYSHA) as the big treasure house of public memory for all of New York State – from farmer to urban dweller. All of the letters, clothing, house-wares, photographs and artwork embodying the thoughts, desires, woes and joys of past generations are tucked neatly away in our storage facility just waiting to be shaken-out in the light and put on display. Our collections and exhibits represent instant time travel, or perhaps a little time nexus where we can be simultaneously in past and present with a glimpse along to the future.

NYSHA may be the big memory treasure house, but we are supported by little memory outposts all across the state. It’s the little historical associations that keep local memory alive. Last week Michelle Murdock and I had the pleasure of attending the opening for the Richfield Springs Historic Association. Marjorie Walters and her associates have spent years collecting the town’s memorabilia and displaying it for all to see. The Association’s exhibit space is a grassroots community treasure trove. Visitors were entranced – thrilled to see their town and its history (their history) on public display.

Why does memory matter? Why do we collect, display, and sometimes worship the objects of our past? Perhaps artist Ralph Fasanella came closest to that answer – “But I can’t shut myself off from the past. I don’t forget yesterday, so I know who I am today. I hang on to what I was yesterday, so I know what I’m going to do tomorrow.” In establishing their new Historic Association the people of Richfield Springs are celebrating their past and present, with the experiences of years past now on hand to help inform their future.

Photos courtesy of R. Walters

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