September 02, 2016

20th century wars among museum’s exhibits

by Andrea Hahn

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- There’s something about a multipurpose museum that makes a person expect to take a step back in time. This fall at Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s University Museum, visitors even have a timeline to follow, one that goes down a specific path -- war. 

“Artists React to War” and “The 20th Century Wars and Their Impact on Southern Illinois” are two of several exhibits this fall at the museum. Museum Director Dona Bachman said the timeline shows what was happening in wars and the world and what was happening at SIU and in Southern Illinois. 

“War changed everything in the 20th century,” Bachman said. “The wars got Americans out of the United States to places like France and Italy, England and the South Pacific, at a time when only the wealthy traveled abroad. It changed us forever from a small town nation to one that was more international. And SIU was very much part of it all. ” 

The timeline that informally guides the exhibit brings visitors through a cultural treasure trove of fashion, art, iconic imagery and soldiers’ souvenirs and uniforms. The top half of the timeline highlights major moments in the wars; the bottom half notes what was happening at SIU. In 1969, for example, arson claimed the Old Main building at SIU, and just a few weeks later, riots and tear gas greeted the opening of the Center for Vietnamese Studies. Next to that note is a photo of Southern Illinois photographer Gene Moehring camped out in a hammock in Vietnam, and his dress uniform stands at attention nearby. 

“After World War II, SIU went from a little teachers’ college to a major research university,” Bachman said. “The GI Bill brought people to college who otherwise might not have been able to attend, and we were overwhelmed with students. We had them housed in tents and Quonset huts. It was an exciting time. The century ends, though, with ambiguity about our involvement in foreign wars. When you look at in this way, war is a characteristic quality of the 20th century.” 

Down one hallway of the exhibit, dark paintings full of turmoil and loss face off against brightly colored, optimistic propaganda prints. Another wing features a print of Picasso’s famous “Guernica,” his anti-war statement.

“We haven’t done a comprehensive exhibit like this in a long time,” Bachman said. “It’s a lot of work. But it allowed us to exhibit items we don’t always show, and to put them in a different context.” 

Bachman and Eric Jones, museum registrar, curated the exhibits with consultation from SIU history professor Jonathan Wiesen. 

Other exhibits currently on display at the museum include SIU alumnus Allen “Uzikee” Nelson’s African-inspired metal sculptures, a collection of Navajo woven textiles, historical photography, multi-media work from SIU-affiliated artists Renee and George Mavigliano, and floral portrait art by Vicki Rawlins. 

A reception for the current fall exhibits is Sept. 16, 4-7 p.m. in the University Museum. 

Museum hours are Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. and Saturday, 1-4 p.m. The museum is closed during university breaks. There is no admission fee but donations are always welcome.