WKU to feature iconic American items in exhibit

Anna Anderson

Beginning Sept. 21, WKU’s Kentucky Museum will be hosting items from historical icons in a new exhibit called “Instruments of American Excellence.”

The items expand far beyond WKU and even Kentucky.

“I feel that this is an American collection,” said Dan Murph, a songwriter originally from Dallas.

Murph, a Bowling Green resident, read news articles about the growth of museum exhibits at the University of Texas’ Harry Ransom Center in Austin. He drew a parallel between the success of the museum and the success of the university as a whole.

In October 2010, he approached WKU with an idea to do a similar exhibit and official preparations began at the beginning of last school year.

One of the preliminary steps in organizing the exhibit was forming a team of students to help acquire and catalog items for the collection.

Ginger Brothers, a second year graduate student in the folk studies department, was asked to be a part of that team.

The 24-year-old, originally from Haymarket, Va., arrived at WKU last fall after graduating from the University of Mary Washington with a degree in historic preservation.

Brothers said she was in charge of contacting certain public figures to see if they would be willing to donate items.

She was asked to keep the items and their donors discreet, to maintain an element of surprise for future visitors.

“You learned how to handle confidentiality issues,” Brothers said.

While the team has chosen to disclose some items on the website and in press releases, some items will have to be seen firsthand when the exhibit opens.

One of Brothers’ most memorable experiences was sending a letter to Patch Adams early on in the procuring process.

“Getting in touch with him was the scariest to begin with,” she said.

The famous activist and physician donated some of his clown props to the exhibit.

If he came to see his items on display, Brothers said she definitely wants to meet him in person.

Other items that will be on display include a skateboard belonging to Tony Hawk, a pair of Liza Minnelli’s shoes she wore in “The Act” and former President Jimmy Carter’s Habitat for Humanity hammer.

“That’s one of the iconic emblems of philanthropy,” Murph said.

Brothers said the diversity of the collection would attract a lot of people to the museum because everyone can relate to at least one of the items.

“This is kind of universal in it’s own way,” she said.

Murph said collecting pieces for the exhibit went pretty smoothly, and after a while they began to experience what he called, “success by association.”

Some donors were more willing to contribute items after Murph and his colleagues had already procured some notable items for the exhibit, he explained.

Murph is confident that more iconic objects will be donated in the future.

“I feel that from today going onward we can get anything from anyone we want,” he said.