New "Kalamazoo A - Z" to be Displayed at the Kalamazoo Valley Museum Until August 26

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Dive into some of the Kalamazoo Valley Museum’s rarely-seen collections as the story of Kalamazoo unfolds one letter at a time. The new "Kalamazoo A – Z" exhibit will be displayed in the Museum’s first floor gallery until August 26.

Coffee bin from B. Desenberg & Company, c. 1870

Each letter of the alphabet is represented by something in the collection, sometimes with only one object and other times with many objects. Most of the artifacts date to the 1920s to 1990s, with a few falling in the 1830s to 1870s timeframe, a departure from many of the Museum’s past exhibits.

Dive into some of the Kalamazoo Valley Museum’s rarely-seen collections as the story of Kalamazoo unfolds one letter at a time. The new "Kalamazoo A – Z" exhibit will be displayed in the Museum’s first floor gallery until August 26. The exhibit features artifacts and images from the Museum's permanent collection, many of which have never been exhibited. Each letter of the alphabet is represented by something in the collection, sometimes with only one object and other times with many objects. Most of the artifacts date to the 1920s to 1990s, with a few falling in the 1830s to 1870s timeframe, a departure from many of the Museum’s past exhibits.

Visitors will have a chance to explore a thought-provoking array of objects—from advertisements to Zoa Phora elixirs. With an emphasis on material culture, the exhibit presents a unique opportunity to experience Kalamazoo’s history. Material culture refers to the physical objects that people use to define their culture. Museums often use this approach to tell stories and explore the relationship between people and the objects they create. The KVM’s original collection dates from an 1881 donation of rocks and fossil specimens accepted by the Kalamazoo Board of Education as “the beginning of a new museum.” Since then, the collections have grown to approximately 55,000 artifacts, documents, and images. Like most museums, the KVM has only a fraction of its collection on display at any given time. The goal of Kalamazoo A – Z is to bring out rarely-seen parts of the collection to demonstrate the depth and complexity of the Museum’s permanent collection.

In the early and mid-1900s, donations to the collection reflected what prominent members of the community felt was important enough to preserve in a museum. This resulted in an eclectic collection that the Museum has refined over the last thirty years in keeping with current museum professional standards. Today, staff follows set guidelines when deciding whether or not to officially accept new items. The criteria are largely based on whether the materials will aid in understanding of the historical context in which the Southwest Michigan region has developed. This includes items that were made in the area or used by area residents and items that represent cultures which are currently underrepresented in the collection.

The letter A is represented in the exhibit by advertisements. Businesses use advertisements to persuade consumers to buy a particular product or service. Some local businesses used creative advertising souvenirs such as banks, thermometers, and rulers to promote their products, while others used traditional signs, posters, and brochures.

The letter C highlights the Cigar Industry. Cigars were a big commodity in Kalamazoo during the mid-1800s, spawning many manufacturers and wholesalers, along with a local chapter of the Cigar Makers Union. When the Cigar Makers Local 208 organized in Kalamazoo in 1883, more than 500 men worked in the industry at over 30 different factories.

M is for Music Makers, represented by a mandolin made by Orville Gibson, a 1936 Kalamazoo Brand Mandolin, a 1931 Gibson Ukulele, a 1975 Murphy-Shaw Custom Guitar, and legendary musicians like Rem Wall, Gilmore Phillips, and The Velvelettes.

The exhibit’s last item is Zoa-phora, known as “the woman’s helper” a tincture sold by a physician and reverend, Richard Pengelly, around 1881. It was said to cure and prevent sleeplessness and sick headaches, among other maladies.

The Kalamazoo Valley Museum is operated by Kalamazoo Valley Community College and governed by its Board of Trustees. Admission to the Kalamazoo Valley Museum is free.

Media Contact
Bill McElhone
Kalamazoo Valley Museum Director
269.373.7990, wgouldmcelh(at)kvcc.edu

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Dawn Kemp

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