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New director wants to move Wright Museum to next level

Expect new exhibits, international connections and eventual certification

NEW WRIGHT MUSEUM Executive Director Norman Stevens and Collections Coordinator Michelle Landry. Stevens arrived at the Wright Museum on May 16, just in time to ship out the museum’s Sherman tank for a complete overhaul. (Thomas Beeler photo) (click for larger version)
June 16, 2011
WOLFEBORO — For the Wright Museum's new Executive Director Norman Stevens, coming to Wolfeboro was like coming home.

"I was born in Connecticut, and my family came from Essex County, Massachusetts, so I wanted to be able to return to New England," Stevens says, "and Wolfeboro is a wonderful town."

Stevens comes to the Wright Museum from the Kankakee County Museum in Kankakee, Ill., where he also served as Executive Director. He has also served as Director of Museum Operations for the First Division Museum in Wheaton, Ill. (the First Division is the U.S. Army's first and oldest division, having served continuously since June 8, 1917), and worked for Michigan State Historic Parks at Fort Mackinac, Mich., and for the Virginia Military Institute Museums Program. He has also taught history at the collegiate level for 20 years, and is the author of several books on military and social history.

His educational background includes a bachelor's degree in history from Virginia Military Institute and a master's degree in American history from the University of Connecticut, where he has also completed additional doctoral level work.

Stevens is, in all respects, a museum professional, and one of his major goals is to apply professional standards to the Wright Museum.

"There comes a point in the life of an institution when you need to take the next step," Stevens says. "It's like evolution – it happens."

"A lot of great work has been done here already," adds Michelle Landry, Collections Coordinator, who joined the museum staff last November and is building a database of objects in the museum's collection. She has cataloged 500 out of 12,000 items so far.

"We want to build on that great work," Stevens says in agreement. "History is both art and science. Good exhibits tell stories and capture the human element."

On the museum's Home page at www.wrightmuseum.org, Stevens writes, "I have spent a lifetime visiting military museums, battlefields and military historic sites. I have a great interest, indeed, a passion for military history. One thing I have learned, that the military of any nation is a function of the people who created it and supported it. There are no civilians in modern warfare. The American experience in the World War II era can best be told, I think, by fully intertwining the 'home front' and the 'military experiences.' Interestingly, although the World War II experience of Americans (either civilians on the home front, or for those in uniform) represented only a fraction of their life spans, these six years were for many the most important and memorable ones of their lives. My father (who was a signal officer on General MacArthur's) once observed to me that for him the World War II years were the most exciting he had known. For me it is going to be daily pleasure to explore here at your great Museum the complete World War II story experienced by the American people between 1939 and 1945. In the bargain I hope we can discover additional World War II stories for New England generally and for New Hampshire specifically."

The first thing museum visitors will notice are changing exhibits, beginning with the Marine section. "You need to rotate artifacts," Stevens says. "At any one time only five percent of the collection is on display, and there are great treasures here. We need to establish a long-range exhibit policy."

Professional standards provide guidelines for mounting exhibits and preserving objects in the collection. "For example, textiles should only be displayed for six months, sine they are affected by exposure to light and potential sources of damage in the air," Landry points out. Artifacts needs to be stored and used properly to preserve them, and they also need to be catalogued, as Landry is doing, to make them available for research, including, ultimately, through online access.

Another dimension Stevens brings to the Wright is his ability to network with other museums and museum professionals. "I have international connections as well as access to other military museums: every service has its own," Stevens says. This creates the opportunity to mount and participate in traveling exhibits, or create exhibits at the Wright that include artifacts on loan from other museums.

Those connections will also help Stevens work toward another goal, which is to raise national and international awareness of the museum.

A longer-term goal, according to Stevens, is to seek accreditation for the Wright Museum with the American Association of Museums. "Accreditation can bring a museum to a much higher level and make it easier to do things like host traveling exhibits."

While the Wright Museum is clearly in a process of change, two things are definitely not changing.

The first is the museum's unique interweaving of life on the home front with the history of World War II.

The second is the need for volunteers to support the work of the museum and keep it open for visitors. "We are always looking for new volunteers," Landry says. "Our volunteers bring a lot to the museum and make it very special," Stevens adds.

Anyone interested in volunteering can contact the Wright Museum at 569-1212.

The museum is now open for the regular season. Museum hours are from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and from noon to 4 p.m. on Sunday.

On Tuesday evenings in July and August, the museum is open from 6 to 9 p.m. for its Summer Lecture Series.

AJ Coleman
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Varney Smith
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