New Director wants to increase Wright Museum's visibility and visits

by Thomas Beeler
Editor of The Granite State News

MICHAEL CULVER, who became Executive Director of the Wright Museum of World War II History on Oct. 7, in the Time Tunnel room for 1945. Culver considers the seven-room Time Tunnel one of the best features of the museum. (Thomas Beeler photo) (click for larger version)
December 12, 2013
WOLFEBORO — Michael Culver, the new Director of the Wright Museum of World War II History, only started in his new position on Oct. 7, but already he is working on plans to increase the visibility of the museum, both nationally and internationally, and to get more people to come, and come back often.

Culver's background is not in history, but in art and education. He holds Master of Arts degrees in Painting and Secondary Education as well as a Doctorate in Interdisciplinary Studies from the University of Louisville. He has taught Art History, American Studies and Humanities at the public school and university level and has lectured and written scholarly articles on American art and culture. Moving on from teaching he became Executive Director and Curator first of the Ogunquit Museum of American Art in Ogunquit, Maine and then at the Naples Museum of Art in Naples Florida, serving as a museum professional for more than 20 years.

He also creates his own art as a painter and photographer.

So what brought him to the Wright Museum?

His wife, Gail, who is a history teacher, "nudged him to apply," he says, and together they visited the museum, meeting Interim Director and board member John Warner and President and President and Board Chair Anne Blodget.

"We fell in love immediately," Culver says, "and I felt that this was a mission worth doing." What attracted him most strongly was the museum's focus on the Home Front, about what was happening in the United States as it was drawn into and fought a two-ocean war between 1939 and 1945.

"There have been two wars that changed America profoundly," he says, "the Civil War and World War II. The first tore us apart and the second brought us together."

Culver particularly admires the Time Tunnel, a series of seven rooms, one for each year, that allows the visitor to see what was happening in the country from 1939 through 1945. The rooms contain news of the war, but also art, music, industry and facts of everyday life, such as the cost of a house and bread and average wages.

Culver's goal is to refresh David Wright's vision for the museum and increase its visibility as a unique resource on America during the war years.

In the past few years the museum has through Curator Michelle Landry been cataloguing its holdings in order to improve its exhibits and make much of the collection available digitally. This year a new Marine Corps exhibit was completed and Landry is working on a new exhibit for the U.S. Army for next year.

To these standing exhibits Culver is adding two traveling exhibits in 2014. The first, from the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, "Snapshots of D-Day," will be on display from July to September. It features 60 rare photographs of that critical Allied landing in Europe. Culver says the museum plans to augment that exhibit with items from its own collections. June 6, 2014 will be the 70th anniversary of that fateful day.

The second traveling exhibit, displayed from mid-September through the end of October, will be "Anne Frank – History for Today," on loan from the Anne Frank Museum in New York. The museum will invite students to see the exhibit as an educational experience.

Culver says a good museum should be educational and be an integral part of the community. "There is not a lot of history being taught in schools nowadays," he told a Weirs Times reporter recently. His remarks recalled those of Ken Burns, who in a lecture given at the Wright Museum in August 2008 remarked that he finally decided to do a documentary on World War II when he discovered how little American students knew about the war.

One way to increase the educational capability of the Wright Museum is to recruit more docents – volunteer guides who can guide visitors and give background information on the exhibits. "We treasure our volunteers," Culver says, "and hold an annual dinner to thank them for their good work." This year the dinner was attended by First Gentleman Tom Hassan, who is also principal of Phillips Exeter Academy.

One way to raise the visibility of the Wright Museum is to work with other museums in the state and New England to link websites and organize tours. When he was at the Ogunquit Museum of American Art he was for six years Chair of the Maine Art Museum Trail organization, a multi-museum collaborative in conjunction with the Maine Board of Tourism, that set up a tour of seven museums.

The Wright is already host to a number of events, including the current Festival of Trees. Culver would also like the museum to become host of other activities, such as conference and seminars, that would draw visitors from other states and countries.

Looking forward

Next year is the 20th anniversary of the Wright Museum, and Culver and board are working on plans for celebrating that major milestone. One event already scheduled for July 26 is a "Sentimental Journey" evening featuring a 1940s dance band. A proclamation is also being requested.

Culver feels that, if it sticks to its mission, as the years pass the Wright Museum will become more relevant, not less, since it richly records a period of American greatness and unity that many today would like to recover.

"We just need to make more people aware of what we have to offer," he says.

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