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Using History to Provide a Lens Into Today’s Politics

Historians in the News
tags: museums, African American history, Vermont



FERRISBURGH, Vt. — In a nation ripped apart by racial strife and economic inequality, Rowland and Rachel Robinson took a stand.

It was the 1830s, a few decades before the Civil War. The Robinsons, devout Quakers and uncompromising abolitionists, ran a Merino sheep farm and orchard here, and joined a network of Northerners that helped form the Underground Railroad, aiding enslaved African-Americans in their quest for freedom.

The Rokeby Museum is a preserved historic site and exhibition center on the Robinsons’ farm. It encourages visitors to use the polarized past to hold up a mirror to the political discord of the present. In recent years, the museum’s leadership has sharpened its focus on social justice, in deference to the values of the family that inspired it.

“We’ve got to be connecting Rokeby history to current events,” said Catherine Brooks, the museum director and former president of its board of trustees. “It’s the legacy of Rowland and Rachel Robinson. They stood up for human rights and worked hard for that. So we’re keeping their legacy alive by making these connections.”

The exhibition for the new season, when the museum reopens in May, is an example. Carol MacDonald, an artist who lives in nearby Colchester, Vt., is putting together “Mending Fences,” a collection of monoprints and historical objects from the Rokeby’s archives that illustrate “simple and profound acts of repair,” Ms. Brooks said.

On a recent afternoon, Ms. MacDonald was in her studio examining a variety of broken ceramic pieces that she had carefully glued back together, tracing the cracks with a thin line of red paint to highlight the repair. She wove red fabric through the worn threads of an old rug and planned a similar fix for a ripped fishing net.

She would press a badly frayed Victorian lace blouse to a sheet of paint to make a monoprint, revealing in detail both the damage and the repair. All of the items would have their mends undone after the exhibit to restore them to their original condition, Ms. Brooks said.

“The red speaks to a wound, something that’s been broken,” Ms. MacDonald said. “It speaks to anger.”

Read entire article at The New York Times

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