Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Amherst Museums Win Awards

It's appropriate that the emblem at the top of the web page is Janus, looking both backward and forward, for that's what I have to do here.  When two local museum publications won prestigious awards from the New England Museum Association (NEMA) back in May, I filed away the press release, expecting to use it along with some of the news coverage, but the latter failed to materialize.  Apparently that coverage will come in November, when the awards are actually presented at the conference—something to look forward to.  In the meantime, here is the story.

In a press release dated May 10, NEMA announced
Amherst Museums Win Coveted Publication Awards

     (Arlington, MA) — The New England Museum Association (NEMA) today announced that two Amherst museums have won First Place in its 2010 Publication Award Competition. The Amherst Historical Society and Museum won the "Books, under $ 10" category for its entry entitled, Amherst A to Z, 1759-2009.  The University Gallery at the UMass Fine Arts Center won the "Posters" category for its entry entitled, Warhol poster.
     "This award puts the Amherst History Museum, and the University Gallery in very good company at the top ranks of our region's institutions," said NEMA Executive Director Dan Yaeger in announcing the honor.  "Graphic communication is vital to connecting a museum with its community, so their success with publications reflects their success in overall operations as well."
     The competition this year was especially intense, Yaeger said, with 241 publications from 78 museums entered in 19 different categories.  Competition winners will be recognized and exhibited at the 92nd Annual Amherst A to Z NEMA Conference in Springfield, Massachusetts, November 3-5, 2010. . . .

Amherst A to Z:  Amherst, Massachusetts 1759-2009 was the brainchild of then-Historical Society President Betty Sharpe, who conceived of it as both a contribution to the town's 250th anniversary celebrations and a fundraiser for the museum.  Having come up with the idea, she also volunteered to write the book.  She conducted extensive research, involving  artifacts as well as documents, and in addition consulted with numerous residents about both choice of topics and details. The topics are eclectic in the best sense—surprisingly and instructively diverse rather than merely subjective. To be sure, we learn about famous residents, from Emily Dickinson to Noah Webster, and the expected sites such as Town Hall or events such as the Hurricane of '38, but also about much else: the "Baby Book" kept as a record of deliveries by an early 19th-century physician; the "Cambodian Community" of new Americans here, the "Love Notes" charitable fundraiser of the Amherst Club, the "Renaissance Center" at the University of Massachusetts, the "Tiffany and LaFarge" windows in the Unitarian Universalist Meetinghouse, "Community-Supported Agriculture," the "Zion Chapel" (now Goodwin Memorial AME Zion  Church) and the "Zip Code"—01002—one of the lowest in the nation.

 Few people were better qualified to undertake such a task.  In addition to heading the Historical Society and serving on the Historical Commission, Betty, a specialist in American history and American studies and former Director of Education of the Smithsonian's American History Museum, is the author of the acclaimed In the Shadow of the Dam (Free Press, 2004), on the 1874 Mill River Flood in Haydenville, Massachusetts, the most deadly such American disaster up to that time.

Debbie Sachs Gabor served as the editor, and Mary Zyskowski ( did the design work.

Amherst A to Z has been selling briskly in local bookstores, especially in the fall and spring, when college students and their parents come and go, often seeking information or souvenirs involving the town. It is available directly from the Museum.

Both the University Gallery and Amherst History Museum are members of Museums10, the consortium of sister organizations in the Upper Pioneer Valley.  Periodically, the group coordinates exhibits around a common theme.  In fall of 2007, it was Books (partial coverage here).  In 2010, it will be food: "Table for 10 The Art, History and Science of Food."

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