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Local youths help decorate museum with history in mind

| December 1, 2022 1:00 AM

Local youths helped deck the halls of the Northwest Montana History Museum with history in mind in preparation for an open house on Thursday, Dec. 1.

Museum volunteer Susan Bradley, who took on Christmas decorating responsibilities this year, was inspired to reach out to students when she thought about decorating the McClaren 1895 Classroom.

“I thought we’re missing an opportunity to engage kids in the local area,” Bradley said and knew it was around the time that teachers would be getting out the art supplies to make ornaments and other holiday decorations.

She put out the invitation on social media and got a good response.

Bradley was also interested in taking a historical approach to decorating that complemented different exhibits and expanded visitor’s knowledge of local history through the lens of Christmas and was delighted to learn Kalispell Middle School eighth-graders in social studies teacher Brynn Willcut’s elective history class were studying families like the Conrads and other people and groups such as homesteaders, missionaries and Native Americans in the Victorian and Edwardian eras.

“I asked if there wasn’t some way we could collaborate on decorating and the kids came through. They researched Edwardian and turn-of-the-century style ornaments and the interesting contrast of what a more wealthy, well-to-do family or settlers, pioneers would do for decorating,” Bradley said, using their knowledge to help put up and decorate Christmas trees at the museum.

Along with the ornate ornaments, there were also simpler ones made out of salt dough, which the history students made in collaboration with students in Kalispell Middle School family and consumer science teacher Beth Schule’s classes.

Youths from the Bigfork ACES after-school program and Bigfork Cub Scout Pack 4923 also had a hand in the holiday decorating festivities, creating handmade ornaments “similar to those made in elementary classrooms across the country in the not-too-distant-past.” Bradley noted the Cub Scouts decided a paper chain was in order and created one roughly 60 feet long.

“It was great to watch them — such enthusiasm,” Bradley said, noting that the youths were careful working around museum exhibits. “I think they were aware of the fact they were telling a story of Christmas in America.”

When it came to the rest of the museum, Bradley did some research in deciding what to highlight during the holidays such as Montana’s Christmas tree industry in the room with exhibits on the state’s logging industry.

“It’s a great story. Absolutely fascinating,” she said. “On several occasions, we provided the national Christmas tree.”

The open house will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. on Dec. 1 and will feature live music and refreshment. Admission is free. At 5:30 p.m. the open house will feature a live reading of the children’s book, “’Twas the Night Before Christmas in Montana,” by Jo Parry. At 6:15 p.m., Ferndale author Leslie Budewitz, who wrote the “Spice Shop and Food Lovers’ Village mysteries, will be signing her latest novel “Blind Faith.” History writer and wildlife biologist, John Fraley, will be signing copies of his books, including “My Wilderness Life,” an account of his experiences in the wild.

Reporter Hilary Matheson may be reached at 758-4431 or hmatheson@dailyinterlake.com.

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