Covered wagon, aerial map, tribute to artist Fred Irvin new this season
The Grand River Historical Society Museum recently added three new exhibits to its building in Chillicothe.
The first of those exhibits is a collection of artwork by Chillicothe native and famed artist Fred Irvin. Irvin graduated from CHS in the early 1930s. He later attended the Kansas City Art Institute and the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts. Curator Pamela Clingerman said Irvin was an accomplished cartoonist, having once worked alongside Walt Disney, but it was his work as an illustrator that helped make a name for himself.
"(Irvin) was at the Saturday Evening Post the same time as Norman Rockwell," Clingerman explained. "He mostly illustrated magazine covers. He did a couple of illustrations for Reader's Digest."
The collection of Irvin's artwork in Chillicothe is the largest in the world. Still, Clingerman said the room at the museum dedicated solely to Irvin is just a small sample of his work.
"He did some amazing things, and this is just the top of the cake," Clingerman said. "It only scratches the surface."
The second exhibit is a reproduction of a Prairie Schooner covered wagon. The name of this particular type of wagon comes from its most recognizable feature, a cover made of white cotton, linen canvas or Osnaburg cloth. From a distance, the covers looked like sails traveling across the prairie. Clingerman said the wagon is a great way to show visitors the struggles of packing your family and all your belongings into one wagon and making the grueling trip across the country.
"We're trying to show the kids you went from one side of the country with everything you needed for the trip," Clingerman said.
According to Clingerman, Hollywood has created a common misconception about the use of these wagons. When loaded, these wagons could weigh up to 2,500 pounds, and required two yoke of oxen, mules or horses to be pulled. The wagons were primarily used to haul cargo, instead of the travelers themselves.
"All the movies show everybody sitting on the thing and living inside the wagon," Clingerman said. "That didn't happen. They walked beside and slept underneath."
The third exhibit is an aerial photograph of Chillicothe from the early 1960s. The photograph was later enlarged and now stands floor to ceiling inside the museum, serving as a giant map of the city. Museum President Marvin Holcer said the photograph is remarkable given the time when it must have been produced.
"I have no idea how many trips they had to fly," Holcer said. "I'm no photography buff, but back in the early '60s, I can't believe they had cameras that would photograph as fast as that plane was flying."
While it is believed the map was commissioned by the city and created by the USDA around 1964, how the map wound up inside the museum is still a mystery.
"We have accession numbers that we put on with the date so you can kind of figure out where things come from," Clingerman explained. "(The map) has no information on it whatsoever."
The exhibit has been outfitted with several landmarks, such as businesses and schools, so visitors can easily navigate the map.
"(Clingerman) has put these on here so people have a point to start to see if they can find their house, or Grandma's house or whatever," Holcer explained. "Had she not come in and put these on, you could stand back there for hours trying to figure out where you are."
All three exhibits can be viewed during the museum's regular hours from 1 until 4 p.m. Saturdays, Sundays and Wednesdays, or by appointment by calling 660-646-4323.