Museum gets new director

 

F.W. Broschart

Mikayla Larrow, director of Saratoga Museum

The Saratoga Museum's new director, Mikayla Larrow, said she didn't always want to be a museum director, but the loss of a family heirloom with decades of her family's history attached taught her the value of preserving, and learning from, artifacts of the past. The heirloom, a family bible that was one of the few possessions her grandmother had when she moved out West, was lost.

"I love history. It's one of the most interesting things you can learn about in your life," she says as she sits in her office in the basement of the museum where the scent of old wood varnish and saddle leather permeates the air. "The thing that bothers me greatly is when people throw away history."

Larrow, 22, graduated the University of Wyoming in May with a degree in history and a minor in museum studies. She also worked as an intern for the Laramie Territorial Prison while pursuing her degree. Before her four years in Laramie, she grew up in Franktown, Colo., a small town east of Castle Rock.


So, she's used to small-town life in a place like Saratoga. "The last memory I have of Franktown is one house and a gas station," she says. Even though she is familiar with small town life, she is still surprised by the deer wandering around town. And she was pleasantly shocked at the diversity of the collection at the Saratoga Museum.

"I was really surprised when I got here and started looking at the collections, how diverse they are," she says. The range of the museum's collection gives the museum staff opportunities to teach on a wide variety of subjects, and her hope is to dust off some of those items and show them to residents and visitors.

"The collections belong to the people of this Valley, the people of Saratoga. It's important to bring these items we've had that have been stored away back into the light so people can learn from them again."

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Her favorite part of history is the American Revolutionary War, she says, and even though the University of Wyoming does not offer specialized history degrees to undergrads, a lot of her courses were in American studies. "The Revolutionary War and what happened are the building blocks for everything that most Americans believe today," she says. But despite her love of Revolutionary War history, she says that the history of the West is just as important.

"When people think of America a lot of the time, they think of cowboys and Indians, and that's exactly where we live. That history itself, that makes us unique and regardless of what people back East think, the West really also shaped how we perceive ourselves.

"When people came out West, there was a lot of independence in doing that, and that has morphed into many different things that we still recognize in the modern day."

The diverse collection, the importance of Western history and culture to American values, and the museum's motivation to teach means some of these collections should be brought out and displayed, she says, saying that the museum currently has a new exhibit of art by local painter Virginia Frederick Large through the end of the season. She is hopeful that in future seasons there will be multiple rotating exhibits.

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She's optimistic about the future of the museum, saying multiple fundraisers are planned to keep it well-funded, and the next major step will be accreditation by the American Alliance of Museums. Accreditation is very big in the museum world, she says more than once, saying that accreditation means that a museum is following the best practices and working to preserve historic artifacts in the best way possible.

"It's a very long process," Larrow says. First the museum has to have a humidity control system to ensure that the humidity in the building is optimal for the artifacts. If it's too dry, they'll dry up and crack. If it's too wet, mold and other microbes become a problem. Once humidity is under control, representatives of the accrediting group will visit the museum and study its collection and methods before accrediting the museum or not, she says. Once accredited, the museum will have to reapply every ten years to ensure it is continuing to follow best curacy practices.

The benefit to the museum that would come from accreditation would be that the museum will be able to apply for more grants and get more of the grants it currently applies for. Some grants are only available to accredited museums, and many others prefer accredited ones.

Being accredited also means that many traveling exhibitions, like ones run by the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., could pass through Saratoga. "There are a lot, and I mean a lot of organizations out there that do traveling exhibitions, and if we're accredited and have humidity control, there are a lot of really cool things that could be on display."

Larrow may have big plans for her tenure at the Saratoga Museum, but knows she will need the support of the community to make these big things happen. She says she hopes that residents who have visited in the past will come back in and see some of the new exhibits on display, and the ones that are planned for the future.

"This museum is worth going to," She says. "They should come back in and see their history. They should even make a family day of it, because museums are a great way to interact with the family."

 

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