Visitors to Explore ‘Crossroads’ in New Museum



July 17, 2007 – What is characteristic of this region? What is the essence of southeast Missouri?

These are the questions University officials brainstormed as they developed a theme for the new Rosemary Berkel and Harry L. Crisp II Southeast Missouri Regional Museum set to open in October at Southeast Missouri State University’s River Campus. After numerous planning sessions, surveys of community members and interviews with historians and scientists, “we came to the theme ‘crossroads,'” said Dr. Stanley Grand, director of the Crisp Museum.

Grand said their research pointed to evidence that southeast Missouri is a “crossroads” of geology and geography, of its early peoples, empires (settlers), its modes of transportation, the North and the South, religious sects, education and agriculture. 

“It is our thesis,” Grand said, “that this area is a crossroads. We believe that this concept will give visitors a framework to think about this region.”

The Crisp Museum will replace the current University Museum that has been located in Memorial Hall since 1976. The new 14,000-square-foot museum contains more than 5,900 square feet of exhibition space. With its focus on the archaeology and history of the southeast Missouri region and fine arts, the museum is expected to attract people from throughout the region.

The new Crisp Museum is “meant to be dynamic and interactive,” Grand says.

Planning for the museum has occurred over the past five years thanks to a $2.6 million federal Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) grant. In addition, Lord Cultural Resources served as consultants in the development of the museum.

“They are a world class museum consulting firm,” Grand said.

Lord prepared an in-depth master plan and a functional building plan with specific strategies for lighting, heating, air conditioning, ventilation and other elements.

“They interviewed many stakeholders in the area,” Grand said.

Located adjacent to the Bedell Performance Hall, the Crisp Museum will feature a variety of areas, exploring each of the “crossroads” themes of southeast Missouri. Visitors will find a 36-seat theatre with bench-style seating at the entrance of the museum, where they will be invited to view a short film about the region as they start their visit. Produced by Hillmann and Carr of Washington, D.C., the 17-minute film was created with a great degree of research and forethought, Grand says.

“It is a high end production,” he says, adding Hillmann and Carr got the nod to produce the film after the University reviewed proposals from filmmakers across the country.

Hillmann and Carr sent a director, writer, and cinematographer to Cape Girardeau to interview and film community members and academic specialists.

“We probably had 20 local people who participated in the project.”

In post-production, Hillmann and Carr blended these interviews with historic film footage, footage shot especially for this production, and archival photographs to create an impressive visual introduction to the region. The film will be shown three times an hour, Grand said.

The permanent exhibition gallery is designed with an interior open space with each of the featured “crossroads” in designated areas around the perimeter. Expographiq of Hull, Quebec, Canada, built the museum’s displays. Interpretive text panels accompany the displays.

“Every text panel was vetted by people in anthropology, history, and geology for style, context, and comprehensibility,” Grand says. “We spent a lot of time on the text panels.”

In the area highlighting the geographical and geological area of southeast Missouri, visitors will find an interactive topographical map showing a portion of the Mississippi River. By touching various buttons, visitors will learn about specific sections of the river and interpretive texts will guide them.

Grand says southeast Missouri is a “climatological, geographical crossroads. We have the interior highlands that meet the coastal plains, and out to the west, we have the Ozarks.”

In the area on the early peoples of this region, visitors will learn about the PaleoIndian, Archaic, Woodland and Mississippian peoples. Highlighting the early peoples area will be a full-scale Mississippian hut with three lifelike characters, designed by Guy Louis XIV of Quebec, Canada, inside it.

“They are very realistic,” Grand said, adding visitors can touch buttons beside the hut, which, one by one, light the characters as they tell their stories. Displayed throughout the museum will be murals by artist Michael Rosato of Baltimore.   “They are very dramatic and large,” Grand said, explaining that Rosato conducted extensive historical research and visited the area before painting the murals.In the area devoted to empires, visitors will learn about French, Spanish, American and British settlers as an important component of the early history of this region.

Featured here will be a Rosato painting of Frenchman Louis Lorimier, the founder of Cape Girardeau. An audiovisual element is incorporated near this painting that will allow visitors to touch interactive buttons to learn more about the early peoples of this region, such as the Native Americans and the Spanish fur traders. French and Spanish artifacts on display in this area will include a chain mail shirt, a conquistador helmet, a gold coin borrowed from the Louisiana State Museum, and items lent by the Felix Valle State Historic Site in Ste. Genevieve, Mo.

In the area devoted to transportation, visitors will learn about transportation in this region by steamboat, rail and highways.

“From a transportation viewpoint, Cape is well situated: We have major north-south arteries (the Mississippi River and Interstate 55) along with east-west access provided by the new Bill Emerson Memorial bridge, ” Grand said.

“During the Civil War, both Union and Confederate forces sought to control southeast Missouri. This area was a crossroads of the North and the South,” he said.

The North-South crossroads area will highlight Civil War battles in the region, including the Battle of Cape Girardeau and the Battle of Island No. 10. An interactive map of these battles will be displayed, and visitors may press buttons to see short videos about each one.

Visitors also will learn about southeast Missouri as a crossroads of religious groups – Catholics, Southern Baptists, the Missouri Synod of Lutherans and other non-traditional and non-denominational groups, among others.

“Residents of southeast Missouri have long nurtured religion,” Grand said. “Billy Sunday (the famous early-20th-century evangelist) came here on two occasions and conducted revivals (one of which was held in Academic Hall).”

The museum also will highlight southeast Missouri as a crossroads for education. Over the years, the area has provided both parochial and non-sectarian training, Grand said, as evidenced by the training of seminarians for the priesthood at St. Vincent’s College and Seminary, the forerunner to River Campus, as well as the training of teachers at the Southeast Missouri Normal School, the predecessor of Southeast Missouri State University.

Rounding out the crossroads theme will be an area devoted to agriculture, which, Grand says, is closely related to and takes visitors full circle, returning them to the first featured crossroad of geology and geography.

“There is an interesting progression in this region from subsistence farming to agribusiness,” he said. “In the Bootheel today, people are managing 5,000-acre farms.”

Highlighting the agriculture area will be a five-minute video on the sharecroppers strike of 1939.

Three interactive kiosks – devoted to transportation, geology and other regional topics — will be situated in the museum, with the intent of providing visitors with in-depth learning on such topics as how a steam engine works and the history of steamboats on the Mississippi River. The kiosks – each of which will feature a personal computer — are the result of a $12,000 AT&T Excelerator grant the museum received in 2005.

The museum also will include 1,900 square feet of temporary exhibition space, where, primarily, traveling fine arts exhibits will be displayed.

The new museum also will house the Thomas Beckwith Collection, which contains 900 whole ceramic vessels and effigy fragments plus about 1,500 lithics. Beckwith excavated the pieces at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries from mounds on his property in southeast Missouri. In 1913, Beckwith donated his collection to the Third District Normal School, the predecessor to Southeast Missouri State University. Since 1976, the collection has been housed in the Southeast Missouri Regional Museum. The collection provides unique insights into the culture and lives of prehistoric Native peoples of this region.

Items in the Beckwith Collection are individually mounted and secured to the shelves, making the ceramic vessels earthquake proof. The vessels will be displayed as visual storage with little explanatory text attached to them. In the absence of text panels, Grand says, a computer will be located near the collection, where visitors and researchers may access a database and locate more extensive information about each piece.

Grand, who came to Southeast Missouri State University in 2000 from northeastern Pennsylvania, says he has thoroughly enjoyed participating in the development of the new museum.

“It’s been very exciting and challenging,” he said. ” Working on the new museum has been a highlight of my career because very few people have the opportunity to be involved with creating a museum from the ground up.”

Grand also has been instrumental in hiring and building a team of museum professionals over the past couple of years in preparation for the new facility. The Crisp Museum will be staffed and open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Friday. The museum also will be open on weekends and when events are scheduled in the Bedell Performance Hall or the Wendy Kurka Rust Flexible Theatre.

The first traveling exhibit in the temporary exhibition space will open on Saturday, Oct. 20, in connection with Homecoming weekend. The exhibit is a collection of American paintings from the Hainsworth Collection and includes examples of Hudson River School scenes, American Impressionism, Ashcan painters, and Regionalism, with a study by Missouri artist Thomas Hart Benton.