Friday, December 7, 2012

A Top 12 List for 2012

In looking over past blog posts, I realize that it's been... ahem... a while. In my defense, however, it's been just a bit on the busy side this past year. And in that spirit, I'd like to offer something of a countdown - in no particular order - of the 12 best events of 2012 at the Mark Twain Museum!

1. The museum celebrated its 100th anniversary on May 15, 2012 with a ceremony on the mall in front of the Boyhood Home. Special guests included Sara Zimmerman, great-granddaughter of George Mahan who purchased the home in 1911 to save it from demolition. He gave the home to the city of Hannibal in 1912, and since that time more than  8.5 million visitors have toured the home. Miss Zimmerman summed up the sentiments of those attending when she said, "It makes me feel very blessed that my grandfather had the foresight to do this for the city of Hannibal. It was an amazing act of preservation in a time when preservation was hardly known." Congressman Blaine Luetkemeyer also spoke at the ceremony about the importance of the museum properties from both an economic and historical perspective. The museum exhibited "100 Years of Memories" featuring a retrospective of special visitors and events through the years including an online gallery.

Centennial Celebration

2. Historic preservation being the focus of our efforts, it was exciting to witness the completion of the Van Swearingen House restoration project by Hannibal High School historic preservation trades class students. More than 50 students worked on the 1844 home for two years. The Riedel Foundation provided substantial support for the restoration, and the home is now ready for new owners. 

Before and After

3. Speaking of historic preservation, I also have to list the day I received a phone call from an anonymous donor who was eager to help us complete the Becky Thatcher House. He said he was pleased with our efforts and wanted to help. Although I've never met this gentleman, I am forever grateful for the generous donation of $50,000 and his vote of confidence. "The Becky" is nearly complete, and it will be a highlight of 2013 to reopen the home to visitors. Thank you to every donor who recognizes our important work here.

The Becky Thatcher House

4. Special thanks to our new marketing director, Brenna McDermott, for spearheading many projects and events (in addition to writing dozens of press releases) such as Missouri School Read-In Day, a new initiative enacted into law by the Missouri legislature. Representative Mike Kelley asked the museum to take the leadership role in this program that invites community leaders into classrooms to read aloud to children. The museum piloted the program this year and will be expanding it around the state in 2013.

Reading Tom Sawyer?

5. Another great event this year was a visit from our beloved Hal Holbrook who has been performing his breathtaking "Mark Twain Tonight!" since 1954. The purpose for Hal's visit was twofold: he came to perform to a captivated crowd at Hannibal High School on November 17th, and the next day he received the "Mark Twain Lifetime Achievement Award" from the museum. The museum announced the establishment of the award this year during its centennial celebration. It will be presented every two years to someone whose life's work has significantly furthered Mark Twain's legacy. It is easy to understand why Hal Holbrook was the first ever recipient! The Wiegand Foundation presented the award, a bas relief of Twain writing in bed, inspired by Don Wiegand's portrait sculpture. Governor Jay Nixon even sent a special proclamation for the event that honored Hal as "an adopted son of Missouri."

Hal Holbrook Speaking at the Museum Gallery

6. Pianist Jacqueline Schwab, whose talents can be heard in numerous Ken Burns documentaries, returned to the museum and performed on the Ossip Gabrilowitsch grand piano. Jacqueline performed from her vast repertoire of American music, delighting the audience with stories about the songs and composers throughout the performance.

Jacqueline Schwab
7. Our Mark Twain: Words & Music CD benefit celebrated its one-year anniversary in September. The CD was named "the most downloaded Americana album of all time" by AirPlay Direct, was aired in its entirety on "The Midnight Special" radio show, and landed two songs in the top ten on the bluegrass charts: "Run Mississippi" ranked #2 and "Comet Ride" ranked #7. Sales remain strong, and we even heard from a professor in Japan who uses the CD as a text in his class. And speaking of class, I got to share teaching strategies with fellow educators at the University of Arkansas's Literacy Symposium for using the CD in the classroom to address the new Common Core Standards. I even got to present Garrison Keillor, Carl Jackson, Rhonda Vincent, and The Church Sisters with special frogs sculpted by Don Wiegand as thank you gifts for their work on the CD. And that's the short list!

Carl Jackson, Yours Truly, and Garrison Keillor
on the stage at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville
Carl Jackson, Cindy Lovell, Lethal Jackson
at Wiegand Studio where Don Wiegand
created a lifecast of Lethal's hands filing a
banjo pick - like he did when Carl was just 5!
Don also created a lifecast of Carl's hands playing
the banjo - a Gibson Mastertone, of course!
Don did all this to thank Carl for producing
"Mark Twain: Words & Music."
8. And the AWARDS go to... the museum, of course! The museum is frequently recognized for its accomplishments and contributions, and 2012 was no different. True West magazine (which my dad read when I was a kid), named the Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum a Top Ten Western Museum. Hannibal was a frontier town when Sam Clemens lived here, and that's part of our story told in our buildings and artifacts. The Division of Tourism surprised me with the Ambassador Award at the Governor's Conference on Tourism. And the design work for our beautiful CD was recognized by the International Academy of the Visual Arts.

Our thanks to Poole Communications for
designing the award-winning CD cover and liner notes!

With Governor Jay Nixon at the Conference
9. In 2009 we were visited by Neal Moore, a CNN iReporter who was canoeing the length of the Mississippi River looking for positive stories, and in 2012 we published Down the Mississippi: A Modern-day Huck on America's River Road. Neal returned from the far side of the world to launch the book to an enthusiastic crowd. I was proud to be invited aboard the project by Neal whose journeys took him from Lake Itasca to New Orleans.

Down the Mississippi
A Modern-day Huck on America's River Road
10. Our first Becky Thatcher Trivia Night Fundraiser was such a success, we did it again this year! Teams signed up to see who knew the most about the most insignificant knowledge while raising more than $4,000 for The Becky. There was also a silent auction and bake sale. We only had one category about Mark Twain. It was on The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and the team that claimed the town's official couple (Brooke Burton and Lucas Cline) got every answer right!

The Becky Thatcher House
11. Although our museum focuses on the buildings important to Sam Clemens's legacy in Hannibal and Clemens family artifacts, we have a lovely art collection as well, including fifteen original Norman Rockwell paintings of Tom and Huck. This year we featured a special exhibit of Thomas Hart Benton originals, courtesy of the State Historical Society of Missouri. The works represented The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and Life on the Mississippi

We also found a buried treasure - or hidden treasure, at least - in the museum gallery right under our noses! Artist and conservator Gordon Harris discovered that a frame believed to be plastic was actually hand-carved and gilded. He removed the plastic-looking paint with a dental tool and found a valuable antique under the surface. That's right... right under our noses. He happened to be examining the painting of Twain by Andrew Zylinski and noticed the slightest glint of gold in the frame, and there you have it!

Painting of Mark Twain by Andrew Zylinski
12. Last but certainly not least is the Mark Twain Commemorative Coin Act. This legislation was introduced last year by Missouri Representative Blaine Luetkemeyer. It passed in the House of Representatives in April and in the Senate in November. And as an early Christmas present, perhaps, President Barack Obama signed the bill into law on December 4, 2012. The coin bill, which was also championed by Missouri Senators Blunt and McCaskill, instructs the U.S. Mint to produce commemorative gold and silver coins in 2016. A surcharge on the coins will cover all costs, so taxpayers can breathe easy, and proceeds from the sales will be divided equally among the four main Twain sites: 1) The Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum; 2) The Mark Twain House & Museum in Hartford, CT; 3) The Center for Mark Twain Studies at Elmira College in Elmira, NY; and 4) The Mark Twain Papers and Project at the Bancroft Library at UC-Berekeley in Berkeley, CA. Each site can expect approximately $1.75 million from the surcharges collected as long as matching funds have been received. We are grateful to our colleagues at the other Twain sites for working with us for the bill's passage, and we are also grateful to our representatives who recognized the importance of this legislation for the museum. 

Sculptor Don Wiegand created this portrait sculpture of Twain writing in bed.
It inspired the bas relief presented to Hal Holbrook for the Mark Twain Lifetime
Achievement Award, and Wiegand has offered the image for use by the U.S. Mint
when they manufacture the Mark Twain Commemorative Coins in 2016.

There were many other notable moments this year, such as visits from Andy Borowitz, Steve Courtney and Ian Strathcarron with their new books, an outstanding Music Under the Stars series that featured several performers from our Mark Twain: Words & Music CD, two week-long teacher workshops supported by the Missouri Humanities Council, several writers' workshops, ongoing performances by master storyteller Gladys Coggswell and Mark Twain performer Jim Waddell supported by the Missouri Arts Council and the Missouri Division of Tourism, the introduction of new technology using QR codes to enhance visitors' experiences supported by the Riedel Foundation, and even some cave exploration when things got too quiet, which wasn't often enough. But then, you can surely tell from this short list that it's rarely quiet at the museum

Here's wishing everyone a great holiday and a bright 2013. And I'll see if I can remember to do this a little more often than once a year...