FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 19, 2006
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WORKING HARD OR HARDLY WORKING? NEW EXHIBITION
AT VIRGINIA HISTORICAL SOCIETY TELLS STORY OF VIRGINIANS AT WORK
Virginians at Work debuts with a free open house on Saturday, July 22, 2006
Richmond, VA – Ever heard the story of the factory worker who loses his job to a robot? How about the whip and buggy makers who lost their jobs to the advancement of the automobile? How did the end of Jim Crow have a negative effect on black business? Answers to questions like these and more are the focus of a new exhibition at the Virginia Historical Society (VHS) entitled Virginians at Work. By focusing on ordinary people, the exhibition takes the often abstract theory behind the study of economic history and makes it viable and accessible to the visitor. Objects, photographs, oral histories, manuscripts, and multimedia stations help Virginians at Work tell the story of how people have made a living and why jobs in Virginia have changed.
"The exhibition moves chronologically," explains Dr. James C. Kelly, exhibition curator and director of museums for the Virginia Historical Society. "We move through four broad periods in Virginia's economic history—agricultural, commercial, industrial, and the present-day service economy—which refer to the most dynamic element of the economy in each period. Of course, all four co-existed in every period, but their relative importance changed over time as did the number of Virginians they employed. Each segment of the exhibition pays special attention to three main factors; sources of energy, transportation, and communications."
The 3,000-square-foot exhibition debuts with a free open house on July 22, 2006, and is the public face of the Society's new Reynolds Business History Center. Virginians at Work profiles such notable Virginia-based companies as Thalhimers, A. H. Robins, Reynolds Metals, and Best Products as well as individual workers, craftsmen, and small, family-owned businesses.
A horse-drawn funeral coach from the A. D. Price Funeral Home is included. The hearse is an example of the many black-owned businesses that flourished during a time when segregation kept African Americans from patronizing white businesses. In an ironic twist, once "Jim Crow" was defeated, many black businesses were unable to compete with better-financed white ones. Although the civil rights movement widened job opportunities for African Americans, it also had devastating consequences for many black-owned businesses.
Other items used to tell the story of Virginians at Work include a wide array of photographs, neon and other trade signs, examples of retail items and their packaging, tools of various trades, portraits, an early-model computer, and even a re-creation of the original "Reynolds Model Office," furnished entirely of aluminum products. There are four computer-interactive elements including a game on living standards for different workers in the 1920s. This first-of-its-kind exhibition manages to make the often complex topic of local, national, and global economics easily accessible by taking the visitor to the familiar territories of work and earning a living. Carefully organized to highlight the state-mandated Standards of Learning (SOL) for economics, Virginians at Work will become a new permanent fixture at the VHS and was the topic of this year's Summer Teachers Institute. Further educational programming for this exhibition includes a gallery walk with exhibition curator Dr. James C. Kelly at noon on August 9, 2006.
For more information on this and other exhibitions at the Virginia Historical Society, please visit us online at www.vahistorical.org.
Although a private, non-profit institution, the Virginia Historical Society (VHS) is the official state historical society of Virginia. The VHS is located at 428 N. Boulevard. The Story of Virginia, An American Experience, a 10,000-square-foot exhibition with more than a thousand objects covering all of Virginia history from prehistoric times to the present, is featured in the Robins Center for Virginia History. Hours: Monday–Saturday 10am–5pm
and Sunday 1pm–5pm (Museum Galleries only). Admission: $5/adults, $4/seniors 55+ ($2/Tuesdays–galleries only), $3/children and students, free/members. Admission to the galleries is free on Sundays. For group tour information, call (804) 342-9652. For more information, please call (804) 358-4901 or visit www.vahistorical.org.