Last month, about 25 people attended a brainstorming meeting concerning the Historical Society’s vintage looms. Purchased
from the world-famous Scalamandré mills in New York by Anthony Viscogliosi and donated to the Society (see the May 2005
issue of The Courier), the looms have occupied the first floor of the History Center since
The purpose of the meeting was to initiate the Loom Interpretation Project, the mission of which would be to answer these questions:
• How will the Society “interpret” the looms for the public? In other words, how will the public understand and make sense of both the operation of the looms and the significance of the machinery and the people who operated it, set it up, fixed it,and designed it?
• How will the Society display the looms to the public? What building changes need to be made to accommodate the public?
• How will the Society incorporate the looms into our mission of educating the public about the history of Manchester and the Industrial Revolution?
• Who will take charge of the process and “own” the project during its inception and as it becomes a viable component of our History Center? Where will funding come from?
At the meeting, members and staff of the Historical Society as well as newcomers to the History Center toured the first floor to see the looms in their temporary home, and the sky-lighted space designated for their future home. Back on the upper level, a number of discussions ensued:
What is our vision for the looms?
Participants agreed that the loom exhibit would be a “destination,” a significant museum experience that attracts people from the Northeast to come to Manchester specifically to see this unique attraction. The loom exhibit could become a learning center for students and international experts, with college students in textile programs, student interns, and students involved in exchange programs. It could be the basis for learning via the Internet, too. The loom exhibit needs to connect with other significant stories in Manchester: the town’s industrial heritage, the Cheney Mills’ heritage walking trail, even a loom-punch-card/computer connection. To attract and engage children, the exhibit must have interactive elements, along with interpretive photos and signs. For example, enlarged photos of loom workers on foam-core boards could be placed near the looms. The Society has received donations of original Cheney fabric that would enhance the exhibit. The exhibit must tell stories of the times, the society and culture, and the actual people whose jobs revolved around the mills. For instance, one participant mentioned that such looms needed humidity to operate, and her grandmother, who was a weaver, explained that the temperature and moisture in the workplace were stifling in the summertime. Exhibit-related items, such as gowns made from Cheney fabric, parachutes, tools, etc., could be incorporated into the exhibit.
How can we organize the implementation of a loom plan?
Participants agreed to establish a loom committee along with various subcommittees; such subcommittees would focus on research, building and machinery, and educational programs. Local schools and teachers could be involved in working on exhibits and programs. A special fundraising/publicity group (“Friends of the Looms”) would need to be established specifically to promote the looms, and possibly to form relationships in the textile design community throughout the world. The exhibit would have to be installed in steps, starting with the simpler looms, which could be up and running sooner than the others.
Who will contribute significant time? Money?
The Society would need to look for contributions of time, money, and expertise from corporations in the fabric design business, including equipment manufacturers. Local and regional technical schools could work on the exhibit as part of their school work. Former employees and their families could contribute their expertise and stories. Gifts “in memory of” former weavers would be encouraged. A committed fundraising group would be needed to raise funds for the project and to apply for grants. Ideas for fundraising included: sell fabric, crafts, photos, and books from and about the exhibit; sell reprints of Cheney Mills booklets and newsletters; establish a Museum Shop to sell related items; and establish a cafeteria for visitors.
With such an ambitious agenda, the participants determined that the next steps will entail greater involvement of volunteers, especially in the following areas: operating/setting up looms, exhibit/display, telling loom story to public, building/grounds, and fundraising. This is a tremendous challenge, but the wheels have been set into motion!
For more information about volunteering, please call 860-647-9983.