L&A County Museum’s latest exhibits feature life in the 1920s and the Napanee River

Lennox and Addington County Museum and Archives curator JoAnne Himmelman shows off one of the displays in the museum's latest exhibit about the period after the First World War. Art by painter O.C. Madden serves as the backdrop. (Adam Bramburger/staff)

New displays depict light, colourful mood of post-war years

Adam Bramburger

Beaver Staff

After consecutive summers presenting serious exhibits tied to events of national significance, the Lennox and Addington County Museum and Archives has opted to have a little bit of fun with a local focus for 2018.

Curator JoAnne Himmelman said in recent years, the museum has featured displays related to Sir John A. Macdonald’s 200th birthday, the 100th anniversary of the First World War, and Canada 150. Without a milestone to commemorate, it was time for a change.

“This year we wanted something a little bit lighter and more colourful,” she said. “We’ve come up with an exhibit we’re extremely fond of that we hope people will find engaging.”

The overarching theme is “The War is Over and ‘Anything Goes.’” Himmelman explained the premise is a look at life in Lennox and Addington in the 1920s after the armistice to end the First World War.

“Life was exciting and happy and everyone was trying to find the new normal,” she said.

A display in the central gallery, titled “A Day’s Fun On The River” evolved from an article Dr. Allan Walters penned about life on the Napanee River in that era with people boating to cottages and just living life freely without any cares.

“There were just these evocative images in that article, I wanted to make it come to life in an exhibit,” Himmelman said.

All told, it took about a year to move from that original idea to the presentation the public will see.

Central to the display is a painting by artist O.C. Madden depicting a scene along the river bank. Himmelman and manager Jane Foster decided it would be a good piece to set the tone, but they wanted to give in a three-dimensional effect that draws the viewer in. Himmelman likened the vision to a scene in Mary Poppins where chalk drawings came to life. To create the effect, she worked with longtime Fort Henry curator Ron Ridley. Eventually, they enlarged an original  canvas that could be held in one hand to a size of 17 feet by 10 feet, then used paper and canvas to create rolling waves and build a boat, the Red Devil, which Madden had also painted. Crafted seagulls also add to the effect.

Himmelman explained the Red Devil was the first motorboat on the Bay of Quinte. Someone at the time coined the phrase devil for its loud roar and the wake it produced while ferrying guests to and from vacation homes.

Walter had a personal connection to the Red Devil as his father, Charlie, used to race the wooden boat with an inboard motor. In 1909, he entered it in a boat race in Trenton. He lost, but his trophy from that day is still in the museum’s collection. Below that trophy, there’s a button people can press to hear a roar and imagine what it sounded like.

The exhibit also includes a narrative about the Red Devil and archival material about some of the leisure activities of the day. Museum staff also sourced swimwear from the 1920s and 1930s as part of the display.

“It’s nothing too risqué for our day, but it really sets the tone,” Himmelman said.

The theme continues down the Archives corridor with a photographic display called “Camping on the Bay.” One of the destinations the Red Devil ferried people to was Camp LeNid, located at a point in Adolphustown off the Long Reach. Lawyer Walter Sevens Herrington often hosted family and friends there. The images on display highlight their leisure activities at the camp over a period from 1886 to 1947.

Lastly, the reception cases in the museum’s lobby will host a related display entitled “Rambunctious Renaissance — the 1920s.” It will feature artifacts from the museum’s holdings from that decade that offer insights into technology, men’s and women’s fashions, celebrity, music, leisure and sport.

An official opening for the exhibit will be held May 31 at 7 p.m. with vocalist Hannah Barstow on hand to perform jazz from the era. The displays are now available for viewing, however.

Also later this summer, the museum will welcome another somewhat unconventional exhibit as it has secured the travelling “My Story, My Tattoo” from the Wellington County Museum and Archives. The multimedia presentation explores contemporary stories of Ontario residents aged 26-89 from all walks of life and their tattoos.

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