#51 Pearl Button Museum

My name is Robert P. Connolly and I would like to adopt the Pearl Button Museum.

Museum Exhibit (Photograph by Robert P. Connolly)

Tell us a bit more about yourself
I live in Memphis, Tennessee, USA. I am the Director of the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa and Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Memphis. Courses I teach are around studies issues such as Museum Practices and Applied Archaeology and Museums. My research areas are in Applied Archaeology and Community Outreach.

Tell us a bit more about your adopted museum
The Pearl Button Museum is located in Muscatine, Iowa, US, and tells the story of the Pearl Button Industry in Muscatine. The museum occupies the first floor of the Muscatine History and Industry Center. The second floor of the Center exhibits the modern industries of Muscatine. These exhibits come off as equal parts trade show, chamber of commerce, and educational. The collaborative arrangement provides corporate support for the total Center complex. It’s open from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM, Tuesday through Saturday. Requested donation is $4.00.

Why have you chosen to adopt this museum?
The hands-on exhibits engage with the Museum story. That is, the hands-on approach is not simply for the sake of having a hands-on experience as is often the case in museums. The Muscatine exhibits challenge visitors to “card” buttons or sort and count buttons as workers did for over a half century. A large map of Muscatine plots the locations of the button factories and support industries along with private residences. Accompanying legend books give detail on structures. During my short visit to the museum, multiple sets of visitors spent time viewing the map. In one instance, two older women reminisced about their neighborhood in the 1950s. In another instance, a grandmother told her grandson about her own history in the town, the school she attended, and her parents first home, pointing out the locations on the map and correlating them to present day structures. The Pearl Button Museum is a resource for out-of-town visitors and community residents that is very engaging.

Why would you recommend people visit?
Primarily composed of exhibit panels and hands-on displays, the Pearl Button Museum tells the story of the town from the origins of the industry in the late 1800s through the transition to plastic buttons by the 1980s. I took away an intimate sense of the city’s history. Rather unique was the seemingly non-biased telling of the pearl button story from the perspectives of the entrepreneurs who owned the factories, the clammers who collected the mussels from the Mississippi River, the 1946 Pearl Button Queen selected by Ronald Reagan, to the workers of the industry. One exhibit panel focuses on Pearl McGill, a young union activist. The AFL unions are given the same balanced presentation as the owners of the factories. In this capacity the Museum truly incorporates the multiple constituencies of Muscatine.

How would you sum up your museum in three words?
engaging, inclusive, low-tech

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