Kelby Rose is the director at the Elkhart County Historical Museum, where he has served since June. The museum, located at 304 W. Vistula St., Bristol, is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays.
Q: How long have you been doing museum work?
A: I’ve been interested in museum work for several years. While I was earning my Ph.D. in anthropology at Texas A&M I became really interested in museums as a way to educate the public. A lot of my colleagues were interested in becoming professors themselves, but I realized that my calling was in trying to engage people in a personal way with objects from the past. My background is in archaeology and so the objects that history has created, to me, hold tremendous power and tremendous educational potential.
Q: What is a typical day like here for you?
A: It’s a little bit of everything. It is balancing both internal and external projects. Internally we’re working on some new exhibit ideas; we’re also working on getting a handle on our entire collection of objects. Our collection of objects is about 30,000. They have been collected over 100 years. So we are working on trying to inventory every single one of them. Nothing like that has ever been done in the history of this collection before. That’s a major internal project. But also we’re ramping up for our busy season, so we’re working on marketing, we’re working on program development. So internally I sort of help either start or guide all of those things and keep a top-level view of what’s going on. Externally we’re working with developing new partnerships. We’re working on fundraising, of course, but the marketing side extends out in to the community as well.
Q: What is interesting in working at a place like this?
A: It’s really the local-ness of it. It’s how personal it is. You’re not telling a national story, you’re not telling a global story, you’re telling a very local, personal story for people. This building itself is an exhibit in a lot of ways, the old high school. We have lots of alumni who come through, people who graduated from it, and we have all the graduating class pictures there. People come in all the time and identify themselves or relatives there. The physical space is personal for people. Beyond that, the stories we can tell, the objects that we showcase, the way that we tell the stories, lots of people that have donated objects to our museum come in and tell us about them or come and visit them again. It’s really how personal it is. It takes the abstract idea of history and puts it in people’s hands and it makes it hyperlocal.
Q: You’re an archaeologist. What is your area of research?
A: My area of specialization is a little bit weird. It’s nautical archaeology, which is the archaeology of ships and boats. Mainly the archaeology of shipwrecks for the most part. When I was in school I studied early-modern northern European shipbuilding, which is a really esoteric and obscure topic. All the time when I talk to people here, being a newcomer to the community, I talk to people about my background they’re like, “Wow, that’s really interesting, how does that apply to Elkhart County?” It actually applies more than you think. We wouldn’t be where we are if it weren’t for the waterways that we have.
Q: Is there anything coming up at the museum you would like to highlight?
A: Through the end of the month we have a traveling exhibit from Indianapolis that’s all about Indiana cartoons and comics. Which, actually there is a big Elkhart component to that overall story to cartoon and comics. We’re going to be opening our quilt garden at the end of May. We’re also going to be hosting the Indiana Bicentennial Barn Quilt, which is very exciting. At the end of May we have a really exciting new event called the Colonial Culinary Workshop. What we’re going to be doing is having two costumed re-enactors who come in with 18th century clothing, 18th century cooking equipment and then they’re going to cook a multi-course 18th century meal. It’s going to be a totally new way to experience history. We’re hopefully going to do a lot more of them and a lot more hands-on and food-based programming. I think that’s really exciting.