Oshkosh Public Museum celebrates People of the Waters


The People of the Waters exhibition at the Oshkosh Public Museum opened a year ago, a project that represents four years of research, planning, design and fabrication based on input received from citizens and local teachers. This exhibition celebrates not only the Native American culture that stretches back well over twelve thousand years, but it also shares the story of their survival.

The Museum’s effort to tell this story resulted in national recognition by the American Association for State and Local History in the form of their prestigious Award of Merit. People of the Waters was reviewed for its scholarly work, creativity, and the involvement of multiple stakeholder groups. It was judged against museum projects from across the nation and was selected for its excellence.

The key storyline and interpretive elements of this innovative experience are based on the most recent research that focus primarily on the study of the Ice Age, Native American cultures, and the impact of the Fur Trade. It features interactive media kiosks, a full-sized recreated longhouse, a web-based interactive game on the fur trade, a walk-over archaeological excavation, over 1,000 artifacts from the Museum’s extensive collection, and more.

People of the Waters is an excellent way to showcase the Museum’s Native American collection, most of which was collected by Museum staff, especially Arthur P. Kannenberg and Ralph N. Buckstaff in the early decades of the Museum. These two men established close ties with various members of the Menominee tribe including Reginald Oshkosh (1869-1931), grandson of Chief Oshkosh.

This state-of-the-art exhibition is a huge draw to all K-12 students and educators, providing enriching field trip opportunities that align with and enhance classroom instruction. Essentially, it appeals to anyone with an interest in discovering more about the region’s cultural history and understanding how past events shape our lives. Learn more by exploring the virtual exhibition, play the Trap and Trade game, or download the curriculum plans at oshkoshmuseum.org.

The year has passed by quickly, and while the Museum is enjoying their success with People of the Waters they are also steadily moving forward to their next big project: bringing the next phase of the region’s history to life. Museum staff has begun working with Split Rock Studios to develop a stirring, cutting-edge conceptual plan to replace the current second floor galleries that will continue the story presented in People of the Waters.

The storyline begins with the first white settlers, who were attracted to this area by Oshkosh’s ideal location and the prospect of prosperity. Like People of the Waters, a key goal is to ensure this new exhibition has clear and strong connections to curriculum so Museum field trips enhance learning, but are also fun and inspiring. Visitors will experience historic Oshkosh like never before through augmented reality, which uses computer generated animation, historical photographs and film to enable a mill or the Great Oshkosh Fires to “come to life.”

In-depth research, artifact selection and conservation, and initial media component work begins in 2019, and exhibition design and development is scheduled to start in 2020. Plans for an expanded entrance and archives area are also included in the plan. The goal is to complete renovations by 2024, making the Oshkosh Public Museum a visitor-friendly, dynamic regional history center.

The Oshkosh Public Museum is a non-profit regional history museum, entrusted with the care of more than 300,000 collections and historical documents representing the history, culture and heritage of the region. An amazing resource for research and discovery, the Museum is nationally accredited by the American Alliance of Museums and listed on the State and National Register of Historic Places. Housed in the historic Sawyer home since 1924, the Museum brings history to life through quality exhibitions and special programs, engaging guests in ways that inspire discovery.

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About Author

Karla Szekeres Oshkosh Public Museum Civic Contributor

The Oshkosh Public Museum is a non-profit regional history museum entrusted with the care of more than 300,000 historical photographs, documents, and artifacts that represent the history, culture and heritage of the region. Housed in the historic Sawyer home since 1924, the Oshkosh Public Museum is an amazing resource for research and discovery of Oshkosh and the Lake Winnebago region. Situated just off the Fox River near historic downtown Oshkosh, the Museum’s mission is to preserve the area’s colorful legacy, and to bring history to life through innovative exhibitions and educational programs that will both inspire and entertain guests of all ages and interests.

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