The previous museum curator at the Cumberland County Historical Society once told Rachael Zuch that when a curator gets the museum exactly where they want it, it’s time to move on.
By accident or by plan, Zuch did just that by leaving the Historical Society to start her own business after overseeing the renovation of its museum. She joined the society’s staff in 2005 as her first job after college. Now, she plans to start her own graphic design business, which will keep her connected to the Historical Society as she designs its newsletters and books.
“Rachael offered exemplary service to the society, museum and Cumberland County communities. CCHS will miss her diverse curatorial talents and uncanny aptitude for exhibit design, fabrication and installation,” said Jason Illari, executive director of the Historical Society.
The renovation project took about a year of hands-on work that came after more than a year of planning. Nearly the entire project was done in-house, including the construction of a custom cabinet for pottery that fits the existing museum so well that visitors don’t realize it’s a new feature.
“The museum renovation was intentionally designed to bring in more casual visitors,” Illari said. “A lot of the interactives were designed for someone just interested in having fun for a couple of hours.”
Since permanent exhibits at the museum change every 10 to 15 years, it was a “once-in-a-lifetime” experience for Zuch, she said.
“The exhibits had opened in 2005. After a while, stuff gets a little dated,” she said. “People don’t want to come back and see the same artifacts all the time.”
The society has plenty of artifacts from which to choose for its displays. About 90 percent of the Historical Society’s holdings are in storage on a regular basis because there isn’t room to put everything out on display, even though rotating exhibits can put more artifacts on public view.
The redesigned museum also offers more opportunities for visitors to touch the artifacts.
An interactive timeline combines the goals of showing more artifacts and providing additional hands-on opportunities. The timeline depicts residents of the county through the centuries, from the original Native American inhabitants to the young people of the mid- to late 20th century.
“As you move down the timeline, you would be able, in theory, to see what was in the pocket of someone living then,” Illari said.
Zuch also made an effort to cut back on the amount of text used in and around the museum’s exhibits. That meant bringing in larger, almost life-sized, photos and offering more focused text within the exhibit, with an option to read more about the artifacts on display by picking up a guide on a rack located near the display.
Smaller displays called “Windows to History” also give Historical Society staff the opportunity to rotate artifacts from storage to display. One current window displays a check writer and other artifacts from a long-since closed garage in town. Zuch said community groups and businesses can be featured in the windows, which are changed out every four months or so.
A separate room in the museum is dedicated to the Carlisle Indian School and the more than 10,000 students who attended it. The room is also a place to showcase the society’s digital tour project through which visitors can use kiosks installed near the displays to bring up additional stories about the subject displayed.
“You just can’t put all that on the wall, but this can augment what we’ve got here,” Zuch said.
More recently acquired artifacts include items that may well have been discarded by most. A sign protesting the construction of a “monster warehouse,” for example, is part of one display, as is the sign from Project SHARE’s original farm stand at the corner of North Pitt and Lincoln streets.
“People bring it to us for the most part. We’re the home for homeless artifacts sometimes,” Zuch said.