Wednesday, November 30, 2016

New Historical Exhibit on Display on 5th Floor

By Sarah Beer, McIntyre Library Special Collections Student Assistant

Nelson Exhibit
In the spring of 2016, fifteen public history seminar students, under the guidance of Dr. John W. W. Mann, created “Through Daniel’s Eyes: The Photography of Daniel Bastian Nelson.” The family of Daniel Nelson donated a collection of 415 glass plate negatives, with images captured in Eau Claire between 1898 and 1919, to McIntyre Library’s Special Collections and Archives Department. The class collaborated with the Chippewa Valley Museum to display Nelson’s work using five interpretive panels plus an introductory panel, accompanied by select photographs that support a common theme. The five themes chosen by the students are: the built environment, saloon culture, sports and leisure, Putnam Park, and flooding. Each panel explores the role its theme played not just in Nelson’s life, but in Eau Claire during his lifetime.

As a public history major, I was one of the students to take part in the Nelson project. Our class received our assignment, then went to the Special Collections and Archives to view the photos. Set out on the five tables in the reading room was the legacy of Daniel Nelson and the story of Eau Claire more than a hundred years earlier. We committed the collection to memory then met later and brainstormed ideas for five themes. After throwing around countless pitches, we settled on the five themes that would dictate our project. Two other students and I were in charge of the saloon culture panel.

Nelson Exhibit - Saloon Culture
To create our panel, we researched saloons and taverns in Eau Claire during Daniel Nelson’s lifetime. We looked at how many there were, where they were, and who typically ran and frequented them. During our research, we often came across not just supporters of saloons, but also their critics. This aspect could not be ignored, and so we included Eau Claire’s most dedicated prohibitionist, Waldemar Ager, in our story. Once we pieced together our narrative, it was time to piece together our panel.

Our class created a uniform template, but each group had to arrange the layout based on their own photos and content. Of all the work we did, this was perhaps the most difficult part. With infinite possibilities and so many variables to consider, we had to find the one layout that worked the best for us. Each group went through several layouts. Thanks to the critiques of our fellow classmates, we were able to find the layout that is the most pleasing to the eye as well as one that takes into consideration the many variables an exhibit needs to be effective for various audiences. It also had to be cohesive with the other five panels.

“Through Daniel’s Eyes” can now be found on the fifth floor of McIntyre Library, with the introduction panel positioned just outside of Special Collections and Archives. The graduate students of the seminar course also created a website to accompany the exhibit, which can be found at The website offers a deeper look into the life of Daniel Nelson, his photography, and turn of the century Eau Claire.

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