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Mathers exhibit shares memories through historic photos


A note left by a museum attendee is on display over one of the historic photographs as part of the “Memories Shared: Photographs of Historic Bloomington” exhibit Tuesday at the Mathers Museum of World Cultures. A sheet of plastic was placed over each of the photographs so museum attendees could draw pictures and leave notes. The exhibit runs until July 27.  Matt Begala

Visitors can take a stroll through Bloomington’s history as they walk the hallways of the Mathers Museum of World Cultures. Along the walls are historic photos of Bloomington paired with photos of the same places today.

The “Then and Now” photos make up the museum’s exhibit, “Memories Shared: Photographs of Historic Bloomington,” which is connected to the City of Bloomington’s bicentennial celebration and will be open until July 27.

“It’s in the spirit of looking back on the past of this community with images that reflect spaces and places we know today,” Judith Kirk, the museum’s assistant director, said.

A basket of markers sits at the entrance to the exhibit, along with a sign encouraging visitors to grab one and write on the exhibit’s photos about their own memories of Bloomington.

A photo on display as part of the “Memories Shared: Photographs of Historic Bloomington” exhibit showcases an attendee's drawing Tuesday in the Mathers Museum of World Cultures. The historic photographs had clear plastic over the front so viewers could draw and write on them to share their own experiences of the places in the photos.  Matt Begala

The exhibit’s first photo depicts the courthouse square with horses where cars line up today. Messages left by visitors are scrawled in red, black and blue ink on the photo.

“The owlery go vegan,” one message reads. “Had dinner here with Abby. She is nice,” states another message. “Scholar’s Inn — best breakfast in town,” another visitor wrote, along with an arrow pointed toward a building along the street.

“We just said, ‘comment if you’d like,’ and people did,” Kirk said.

When she drives past the courthouse on her way to work every day, Kirk can now imagine the horses and carriages pulling in and out of the square. She said the photo reflects the vibrancy the courthouse square has offered the Bloomington community through history.

“It’s a staple,” Kirk said. “The square is always part of everyone’s connection to Bloomington.”

A photo depicting a celebration on Christmas night in 1941 on the east lawn of the Courthouse Square hangs on display Tuesday in the Mathers Museum of World Cultures. The "Memories Shared: Photographs of Historic Bloomington" exhibit runs until July 27.  Matt Begala

Kirk said her favorite part of the exhibit is reading the notes and memories visitors leave on the photos.

“When you see all the comments on the photos, it reflects a sense of community and connection,” she said.

While historic information can be found in books and documents, Matthew Sieber, the museum’s manager of exhibitions, said the comments left by visitors show history can also be found in the people around you. He said he’s even noticed families scribbling memories on the photos and having conversations about different memories they had of each place photographed. 

Sieber grew up in Bloomington and saw the exhibit as an opportunity to reflect on the changes the city has seen, as well as the buildings and places that have remained.

Sieber also worked with other museum staff members to select the photos, whittling them down from hundreds to just a handful. He said he wanted to discuss the photos with people of different ages, who would have different memories of Bloomington.

Kirk said the exhibit is a chance to introduce people to the museum’s photo collection, but it also helps Bloomingtonians reflect on the history and progress of their community.

“They inspire memories, give people a chance to remember and think about the past,” Kirk said.

She said seeing the exhibit come together has allowed her to see the history around her every day. She said people often walk into Bloomington buildings without knowing or thinking about their histories, but now she stops to appreciate the stories and memories each historic building holds.

“History is around us every day,” she said. “We may be oblivious to the past, but it’s evident around us.”

For Sieber, the exhibit is an opportunity to not only reflect on the past, but also take a peek into the future. By looking at the photos, people can learn a lot about themselves and their community, he said.

“It’s important to know where you came from to know how you got to where you are, and where you’re going to go in the future,” Sieber said.

The Mathers Museum of World Cultures is located at 416 N. Indiana Ave. and admission is free.

The museum is closed on Mondays and during IU semester breaks, but is open Tuesdays through Fridays from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays from 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., according to its website.

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