Take a way
A long-time museum space inside Nevada’s capitol building was recently overhauled to create a historical exhibit called Trailblazing Nevada.
Using $700,000 from the NV150 Foundation—which raised funds to support sesquicentennial-related projects through the sale of specialty license plates—the staff of the Nevada State Museum worked with a Seattle-based company that specializes in museum projects to create the five-part historical exhibit that spans from prehistory to the current era. On Saturdays, docents from the state museum give guided tours of the revamped space.
“It’s sort of like a mini museum,” said Sam Knipmeyer, the docent who led tours on Nov. 17. The 71-year-old has lived in Nevada since his senior year of high school and graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno. He’s been giving tours at the state museum for seven years. When he works the Trailblazing Nevada exhibit in the former Senate Chambers—now called “Battle Born Hall”—he wears an Abraham Lincoln-style high top hat as a sort of historical conversation starter.
“Of course, the name Battle Born Hall refers to the fact that we became a state during the Civil War—but not because of the war, necessarily,” Knipmeyer said. “It was because of Abraham Lincoln was thinking ahead.”
He’s referring to a common misconception people hold that Nevada gained statehood because the riches from its mines were needed to fund the North during the Civil War. Knipmeyer often uses his tours as an opportunity to explain that, in fact, Nevada’s entry to the Union was a matter of politics, not economics, driven by Lincoln’s desire to gain an electoral college advantage from a new state sympathetic to his moderate, reconstructionist goals.
Inside the exhibit space, Knipmeyer has no need for further props of his own. The space now includes interactive elements built into each of its five parts, the first of which focuses on Native people who’ve lived in the region for millennia. This first part of the exhibit is a favorite of Knipmeyer’s.
“The indigenous people who lived here were incredibly genius—to live and thrive in this type of climate,” he said.
The display includes prehistoric tools, including an atlatl (a type of primitive weapon) and a duck decoy made from reeds called tule as well as a replica relief of prehistoric petroglyphs that unlike the real deal at the archaeological site can be touched to experience the texture of the carved and pecked rock art.
Deeper in the exhibit, a set of boxing gloves accompanies an exhibit about Jack Johnson. A telegraph key alongside an exhibit about the state’s constitution—sent to Washington D.C. via telegraph as well as over land—allows visitors to practice tapping out Morse code.
So far, Knipmeyer said, the interactivity of the exhibit seems to be paying off. He’s only given a handful of tours so far but said he’s been pleased to see the space be a hit with young visitors.
“I consider a museum part of the educational experience,” he said. “We’ve got to train the next generation. That’s something I really admire about the Native Americans. … They were able to train the next generation to survive—and you had to be a good learner. You couldn’t look it up in a book or Google it and find out how to make a net or a basket or an atlatl. … It’s the most important thing we do as a society, to teach the next generation.”