On Kentucky’s 230th birthday, the Frazier History Museum opened The Commonwealth: Divided We Fall, a groundbreaking permanent exhibition about Kentuckians dating from pre-statehood to the early 1900s.
What’s groundbreaking about the exhibition is its scope: Not only does it include notable figures, such as Daniel Boone, Henry Clay, and Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln, it also casts a much wider net, offering a rich and expansive view of the many people who’ve inhabited this land.
Visitors get acquainted with Shawnee storytellers, Choctaw students, trappers and frontierswomen, freedom seekers and abolitionists, Confederate and Union soldiers, trade unionists and women’s suffragists, Appalachian coal miners, corn and tobacco farmers, and immigrant entrepreneurs.
“This exhibition shares our history in an inclusive and honest way that hasn’t really been presented before,” Frazier president and CEO Andy Treinen said. “We want everyone to see themselves in our history.”
At the start of The Commonwealth, an immersive space with lush foliage and touch-screen water underfoot simulates the breathtaking sights and sounds of nature in pre-settlement Kentucky. Populating the water are creatures central to Shawnee, Cherokee, and Chickasaw myths and origin stories. Past the cases of fossils and minerals are artifacts of late 1700s frontier life, colonization, and the Revolutionary War, with profiles of settlers such as William Croghan, Robert Craddock, and Pierre Tardiveau.
Visitors board a replica early 1800s riverboat to see an original clock face from the Town Clock Church, an Underground Railroad stop in New Albany, then pass through a replica Slave Cabin furnished with hundreds of blown glass replicas created from 3D scans of a spoon and a cowbell that belonged to enslaved persons.
Unlike most of the Frazier’s exhibitions, which incorporate a large number of objects loaned by other institutions, The Commonwealth draws heavily from the museum’s own collection.
“There are more than a hundred objects on display in The Commonwealth and about seventy percent of them come from the Frazier History Museum’s permanent collection,” Frazier director of exhibition ideation Casey Harden said. “Many have been in storage for years, so we’re really eager to share them with the community.”