Museums offer enjoyable educational experience

Published 12:06 am Wednesday, April 3, 2013

While the City of Bogalusa continues to make manifest the components of its master plan for Cassidy Park in an effort to make it a regional attraction, people from around the world have already been drawn to the park’s museums which were reopened in 2007 by a group of volunteers.

Those volunteers are also continuing development of their own project, and now, along with standing and traveling exhibits that offer tactile, visual and written insight into the local history, they’ve added activity areas designed to teach children and give them more personal experiences with the ways of the past.

Director Lorraine Bourn stood in front of a replica palmetto hut in the Native American Museum Wednesday. Its entrance used to be inaccessible, but beaconed like the doorway to a forbidden playhouse.

“We’ve opened up the hut so children can crawl in,” she said.

Bourn said she, personally, tanned the small deer hide that acts as a welcome mat, and she pointed to a sign just outside the portal.

“There’s no Choctaw word for welcome,” she said. “It says, ‘We’re glad you’re here.’”

Across the room that is filled with a rare and wondrous collection of baskets, pottery, arrowheads, trade beads and more, a small worktable has been set up with materials to enable kids to try out the practice of weaving. Beside that is an easel that encourages the children to “Join the Hunt” for information that can be found in the museum.

“It’s a scavenger hunt,” said Bourn. “We have a short list of questions, and they’re color-coded so the children can look for that color in the museum and find the answer.”

The questions are changed regularly, she said.

There’s a similar workspace and hunt set up in the Pioneer Museum.

Bourn said the children’s activity areas are not only educational and involving, but also enable adults to enjoy the widely acclaimed museums by keeping their kids occupied.

And they’re a big hit with their intended audience, she said.

One mother recently had to drag a child away from a worktable, saying, “This is not day care,” Bourn said. Another, whose child had previously spent some time taking part in the activities, said she asked her daughter where she wanted to go on a rainy weekend afternoon and the child responded, “The museums!”

While the hands-on opportunities are a draw for the kids, there are always new attractions for adults as well. One of the latest is an extraordinary addition to the exterior space at the Native American Museum.

“We recently put up the totem pole Dr. (Paul) Gard carved in the early 1950’s,” Bourn said. “It stood outside the main firehouse for several years.

“We found it stored in the Native American museum in very bad shape. We recently took it out of storage, and Mike Meavers refurbished it and installed it on the museum wall in the garden.” 

The towering totem pole powerfully radiates historic character in faded tones of blue, yellow and white. It is topped by a bird with its wings outspread.

Bourn said the wood carver’s son, Peter Gard, paid a recent visit to the museum and “was thrilled to see” the pole.

“He said he was 10 years old when his father carved it and he is now 70,” she said. “I am amazed at the number of people who have commented on it.”

The Pioneer Museum has a new exterior addition as well. Outside its door a painted representation of a quilt square that shows four different styles of company houses in recognition of the building of Bogalusa.

Museum volunteers Judy Pritchard designed the square and Lynda and Mike Willems did the actual painting, Bourn said.  

The house designs range from small and simple to two-story.

“The kind you got depended on your position at the mill,” she said.

There’s a lot to be learned at the Museums of Cassidy Park, and the volunteers are steadily keeping them works-in-progress by offering new ways to enhance the visitor’s experience.

The Native American and Pioneer museums are open from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday, and entry is free of charge. There are gift shops in both museums.

Museums membership, which includes free or reduced-rate classes and workshops, costs $35 for families, $25 for an individual or $5 for a student.

A series of papermaking workshops, taught by artist Yuka Petz, is now under way. To learn more or to sign up for the workshop, call Millicent Canter at 750-5213.

For additional museum information, call 735-9188 or visit online.