PORT TOWNSEND — Jefferson County Historical Society’s new executive director and its new manager of the Research Center and Oral History Program have plans to bring the history and art of Jefferson County more into the community rather than confining it to catalogues and filing cabinets.
Shelly Leavens has been on board as the executive director for the past two months, replacing Bill Tennent who retired in May after serving since 2002.
She is looking at how connections can be made to the greater community and the schools.
“We have the Trunk Program but how do we do we get it out into the county?” she asked. “Trunks have so many resources. They tell the stories about sailors and navigation, logging, early Victorian days, and agricultural.
“How can we get these stories into school curriculum, to tell teachers about it? We have lots of things built up over time and they need to be marketed and used.”
The goal of Ellie DiPietro in managing the Research Center and the Oral History Program, is to increase access to collections so more people know what’s there.
“We have fabulous collections of photographs and papers and business communications that provide so much more information about the story of the county,” she said.
Leavens is also focusing efforts on the integration of art with history.
The Museum of Art & History, 540 Water St., will host its inaugural artist-in-residence, Hannah Viano, in November.
She will make art “tied to our history, Leavens said.
”Hannah is an amazing paper-cut artist who has been chosen as the 2019 Wooden Boat Festival poster artist.”
Leavens said the museum will set up a studio for Viano in the old sheriff’s office and invites the public to come in and ask questions. She’ll be at spending time at the research center, too.
Viano will give a lecture on Nov. 2 and participate in the Art Walk on Nov. 3 at the museum. Her work will be featured at Northwind Arts Center that month.
Leavens also has been thinking about the museum’s jail.
“I’m thinking of doing a residency within the jail in 2019,” she said. “It’s an interesting space; it’s a conversation about incarceration. How can we engage without telling people what to think, but making some connections and interpretations on their own? This is a hard conversation.
“When you let artists do what they do best, unbelievable things can occur. It ties into the history of the jail here in this county and the history of our country.”
Leavens has worked as an oral historian for the Center for Wooden Boats and the Museum of History and Industry in Seattle. She also served as a curator of public events at the Gage Academy of Art in Seattle, and is a visual artist and writer. She earned a master’s in museology/museum dtudies from the University of Washington and has undergraduate degrees in anthropology and international studies from Penn State.
Leavens also felt the museum needed someone more than an archivist on staff, someone who could design exhibits as well as create programming and take it out into the community, so she hired DePietro.
DiPietro graduated from the Museuology Program from the University of Washington which incorporates the study of museums and building of exhibits. She was also with MOHAI (Museum of History and Industry) in Seattle, and the Kansas Natural History Museum.
The Research Center is located 13692 Airport Cutoff Road. The Jefferson County Genealogy Society also is based in the building.
“We have fabulous collections of photographs and papers and business communications that provide so much more information about the story of the county,” DiPietro said.
“We have the oral history collection which is a great resource for people wanting to hear and read what people have said about their experience growing up here, living here. A large number of those oral histories have been transcribed as well.”
She said she wants to reach out and capture additional oral histories.
“Maybe there are stories that we haven’t heard enough of from the communities further out — Quinault, Quilcene, Brinnon, Chimacum. Maybe there are populations that we haven’t heard about.”
DiPietro hopes to expand programming to school groups.
“The research center is full of primary sources — photographs and letters and business correspondence,” she said, adding that she would love to have kids learn about research.”
The museum plans to expand its online collection so people can research from home. DiPeitro said that not everything can be digitize, but that summaries of books can be provided to make research easier.
Both women are getting settled into their new positions as transplants from Seattle. Leavens said it is quite different being in Port Townsend than in the city.
“I got really lucky. I get to do this work in this beautiful historic place where people go on vacation.”
Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Jeannie McMacken can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at [email protected]