You Are There 1816: The Room
If you clicked on this blog post thinking I was going to write about Tommy Wiseau’s cult classic film, The Room, then you are sadly mistaken. If you came here to learn about the room used for You Are There 1816: Indiana Joins the Nation, then you have come to the right place. Sorry, Tommy.One of the hallmarks of our You Are There exhibits is the physical recreation of a moment in time. We want visitors to feel as though they are stepping into the past, not just another room in a museum. The IHS Exhibitions and Museum Theater departments work together to capture the physicality of the historical situation we are trying to recreate. My job allows me to research the spaces and buy all of the necessary props and furniture.
The 1816 constitutional convention room provided some fun challenges. For example, there is no image of the room where the convention was written. I found in my research that the delegates met in a repurposed home because of an unfinished capitol, but what did that look like? My coworkers and I read up on typical 1816 architecture, decor and furniture. We knew the delegates would not have met in a primitive cabin, but they would not have met in a palatial home, either. Instead, we set the convention in a standard-looking room with some ornamentation, but overall very basic in appearance. To signal the fact that the delegates met in what used to be a home, we included a built-in bookshelf, a large window and a modest fireplace.
Prop shopping came next. This is always one of my favorite parts of the process. The delegates met in the room to discuss parts of the constitution, so that meant we needed to have desks and chairs. I acquired most pieces from various sellers on eBay, although my favorite desk – Jonathan Jennings’s desk – came from a wonderful booth at Midland Arts & Antique Market in downtown Indianapolis. As for the smaller items, we purchased a bevy of quill pens, inkwells and real ink. I also wanted to have real books on the bookshelves, so I made a list of writers who were very important to early American political thought. Additionally, the Indiana delegates borrowed ideas from several constitutions already written. Fittingly, our room has copies of the 1799 Kentucky and 1803 Ohio constitutions. These are only a few of the categories of props in the exhibit space. You will have to go to the exhibit to see the rest. Overall, the 1816 space is not as packed full of items as our other exhibits. That was intentional. This was not a permanent location for government in Corydon, and the delegates were not going to be there for long. They simply did not need as much stuff.
I hope you have enjoyed this little glimpse of our exhibit development process. Come to You Are There 1816: Indiana Joins the Nation to see the room. More importantly, come and see how our actors portraying the constitution’s delegates bring the space to life.
|Angela Giacomelli is the exhibitions researcher for the Exhibitions Research and Development Department at IHS. She loves having a job that combines two of her greatest interests: history and helping people. Her research expeditions are fueled by her passion for the past ... and sugar.|