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Pasto Museum Curator: Interview with Rita Graef

 

Rita Graef; photo by Jennifer Crandell

by LAUREN INGENO

PHOTO: JENNIFER CRANDELL


Lauren: Can you tell me a little bit about the history of the museum?

Rita: Dr. Jerome Pasto, after whom the museum is named, started the collection in the mid-1970s and served as the first curator. Many of the items came from his collection. And those of his colleagues, his supporters and volunteers who surround the museum, have really been key to its existence. It’s their passion and energy, as well as items from their collections that started it and let it grow. And their stories bring those objects to life, which for me is an exciting part of the museum.

 

Lauren: How has the museum evolved in recent years?

Rita: A few years ago, the supporters of the museum raised funds to enhance the size of the museum, more than doubling its space. We now have room to showcase the collection and provide our visitors more of the stories and context from which many of these agricultural tools and objects of rural life would have been used.

 

Lauren: What’s the collection like? Does it change seasonally?

Rita: We try to display as much of our collection as possible. At least once a year we’ll have a temporary exhibit featuring some part of agricultural history and rural life. We also feature different parts of the collection during home football Sundays—a new program started last fall that will continue in 2012. On Sunday after a home football game we’ll be open from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m. and provide activities, demonstrations, and tours. Last year, for example, we did butter making—we tried out some of our butter churns, and pulled out of the collection all of our butter-related artifacts.

 

Lauren: Why do you think it’s beneficial for the general public to visit the museum?

Rita: I think it’s part of our mission not only to collect and preserve these artifacts but to make them available so that people can appreciate a time before electricity and engines, a time when power was generated by the work of human beings and animals. You open up any newspaper and there are always stories that somehow relate to agriculture, whether it’s about food safety or food supply issues. Many of these issues are the same as those that happened a hundred years ago and can inform the decisions that we make going forward.

 

Lauren: Tell us about your job. What makes it special?

Rita: As curator of the museum, I’m the steward of this marvelous collection. It’s my job to care for the artifacts and to make them available to the public. I’m excited about it. I have a background in product design and development. I bring my understanding of manufacturing and technology to the position and delight in how many of these artifacts were either made by hand or, as manufacturing became more in vogue, how they would have been manufactured. You can follow a trail of patents and see how technology evolved to make work more efficient or easier or put more food on the table. And I’m also interested in our history. The stories of the wonderful volunteers that I have the wonderful pleasure of working with keep me going.