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Putnam Museum Opens New World Culture Gallery

Putnam Museum
The Putnam's new "Colors of Culture" exhibit, opening May 22.

The Putnam Museum in Davenport is opening a new original exhibit – “The Colors of Culture” – on Saturday, May 22 in its new World Culture Gallery.

The World Culture Gallery (in the space of the former Asia Gallery near Unearthing Ancient Egypt) celebrates the diverse cultures of our community by featuring artifacts from the Putnam’s international collection. In its inaugural exhibit, visitors will learn about the symbolism of color in adornment, home, and celebration. Additionally, curators worked with staff from World Relief Quad Cities to include artifacts loaned by the newest Quad Citians.

Credit Putnam Museum

A Smithsonian Institution affiliate, the Putnam houses a collection entrusted by seven generations of Quad Citians, including objects from the world travels of some of the museum’s founders such as the Putnam, Palmer, and Figge families. Putnam President and CEO Rachael Mullins says the museum tries to bring to life a sense of place, time, and purpose to ignite human potential and inspire our diverse community to learn about and care for our world and all its people.

Funded by Bechtel Trusts, Scott County Regional Authority, the Putnam Museum Guild, and many private donors and trustees, the $300,000 project is the first major one of this size since the museum’s opening of a Science Center in 2014.

The new gallery expands access within the facility, connecting the former theater lobby to the Putnam’s 1960s structure that houses the museum’s historic collection and the existing entrance since the museum re-opened last July (after being closed in mid-March 2020).

Credit Putnam Museum
Putnam President and CEO Rachael Mullins

“So it opens our newest facility into our oldest facility, allowing groups and also for special events, summer offerings, for all that to connect into our collection space, where we’ll be featuring artifacts from our historic international collection as our World Culture Gallery."

“The gallery also provides a wonderful entrance into the very popular Unearthing Ancient Egypt exhibit, which features our Egyptian collection that’s very well-known, very popular, especially among our school groups, So it's a wonderful connection, I think, for our communities to make between cultures from around the world as well as this historic Egyptian collection at the Putnam.”

The new gallery consists of an upper deck and lower deck, separated by steps and a ramp of about three feet. Mullins says there will be a floor-to-ceiling, glass casement featuring the Putnam’s historic international collection of objects from around the world.

The first exhibit, “The Colors of Culture,” will explore the meaning of color for people of different cultures.

“We’re partnering with World Relief Quad Cities to make sure that we're also featuring some of the artifacts of our local refugee community as well. So it's a tremendous opportunity to see a wide array of ancient as well as contemporary artifacts from around the world.”

World Relief executive director Laura Fontaine worked with eight families to loan clothing and other items for the exhibit. She says the Putnam is educating the public about where Q-C refugees have come from, and not only celebrate the differences among people, but also how we are all alike. Fontaine says for refugees, it helps to know that they are in a welcoming community; they’re in an area that respects their culture and wants them to be integrated in the community.

The bright colors of refugees’ clothes and purses help define their culture and personality, including from Burma, Congo, and Burundi. Mullins notes the World Culture Gallery helps the museum display objects from the collection that have never been seen by the public before.

“We are a Smithsonian Institution affiliate at the Putnam, so we hold a collection of over 250,000 artifacts -- the vast majority of which are in storage rather than on display. So we have a constant rotation of objects."

“Many of these objects will be out for the first time and they represent some of the world travelers, from our founders as a museum - so from the Palmer and Figge collection will be represented.”

The lower area of World Culture Gallery will have rotating exhibits from the Putnam collection, loaned objects and traveling exhibits.

“Especially for our young people growing up, now they're part of a global economy. They'll be part of a global workforce and this entire idea of multi-culturalism and global awareness is a part of the Putman's impact in our community. So in addition to examining our local community and the incredible diversity and international community here in the Quad-Cities region is also understanding cultures from around the world, to encourage our community to understand and really care about our world and different cultures.”

It complements the overhaul being designed for the permanent “River, Prairie & People” exhibit on the Q-C region, to be done by the summer of next year.

“There definitely is a synchronicity in the gallery with our regional history update underway. In River, Prairie & People, we’re looking at our history, really what's occurred since the exhibit was built in 1985. Certainly, the more diverse community, the international community that's come to the Quad-Cities region in that time and our refugee resettlement -- we've really become a cosmopolitan international community over the past 35 years since that exhibit was built.

“So yeah, there's a wonderful connection between the international community here in the Quad-Cities and now the wonderful historic artifacts around the world that will be featured in the World Culture Gallery.”

The exhibit admission is included in the price of general admission — $9 for adults, $8 for youth (ages 3-18), seniors, college students, and military. Through the Putnam’s new “Museums for All” program, admission is $1 per person for households (up to 2 adults and 3 children) with the presentation of an EBT card. Admission is free for members.

For more information, visit www.putnam.org.

A native of Detroit, Herb Trix began his radio career as a country-western disc jockey in Roswell, New Mexico (“KRSY, your superkicker in the Pecos Valley”), in 1978. After a stint at an oldies station in Topeka, Kansas (imagine getting paid to play “Louie Louie” and “Great Balls of Fire”), he wormed his way into news, first in Topeka, and then in Freeport Illinois.