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Groundbreaking, eclectic exhibits debut in March at Batavia Depot Museum

Fri February 25, 2022

BATAVIA – Museum exhibits typically are defined by tangible artifacts and written records passed down for future generations, but often our history encompasses what is left out as much as what is preserved.

In a groundbreaking new exhibit, opening on March 2 at Batavia Depot Museum, historians address how much of our LGBTQ+ history remains unseen. For decades, lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender individuals, queer or questioning individuals, and others on the gender identity and sexuality spectrum have not been included in typical museum exhibits across the country, but Depot Museum Director Kate Garrett said these institutions now are striving to be more inclusive and reflect such diversity.

“We have never done anything like this before,” Garrett said of the exhibit “Refraction: Finding Identity.”

Refraction delves into the changing norms of identity and sexuality, and celebrates the stories of Batavians who have forged their own paths throughout our history. 

Two major influences have stifled the collection of artifacts that help tell the story of LGBTQ+ people in Batavia: self-censorship and collection bias, Garrett said.  

Often, there have been painful social or physical penalties for stepping outside the cultural status quo in society. As a result, so much of LGBTQ+ history remains silenced because of this chilling effect.

“Love letters or other mementos that might give us definitive proof (of sexuality), could also be incriminating to an LBGTQ+ person, their family, or loved ones. What evidence there might have been either was never created, or intentionally was hidden or destroyed out of fear.

“What artifacts do survive often did not make it into museum collections,” Garrett explained.

At the Depot Museum, for example, the bulk of its collection was donated between the 1970 and 2000. For context, the Stonewall Uprising took place in June 1969, sparking the first Pride parades in 1970. The AIDS epidemic claimed the lives of 430,000 people, many of whom were gay men, who died between 1980 and 1999. A generation of LGBTQ+ elders and history keepers were busy fighting for their lives and their human rights when the Depot Museum was seeking artifacts, Garrett said. 

“An entire generation of history keepers and storytellers lost the opportunity to contribute to the record,” she said. “We hope this exhibit shows that while we haven't always been listening, we are now and eager to preserve these stories for future generations.”

Collection bias is the second culprit. We can run the risk of looking at our ancestors’ lives with a very modern lens. While we know that sexuality is innate, it is not understood or expressed the same across all cultures and at all times throughout our history, Garrett said.

In fact, many family photos from generations ago show a young child in a beautiful gown. That youngster could be a person’s great-grandfather, or his sister.

“My biggest hope is that people who didn’t feel comfortable at the Museum feel comfortable and welcome. It has the potential to do a lot of good,” Garrett said.

Depot Museum’s second exhibit, also opening on March 2, is “Inspiring Expression.”

This eclectic exhibit celebrates how Batavians used visual arts to express themselves throughout time and provides a look inside the Museum’s archives of rarely viewed visual artworks, which were created by Batavians.

The variety of mediums on display here, in the Museum’s lower level, range from the common to the astounding.

Pieces contained in this exhibit include photographs, watercolors, a depiction of a windmill alongside a portion of the Fox River that was created in crayon, and an oil painting of President Abraham Lincoln. Also showcased in this exhibit is a piece of hand-carved barn wood, depicting a farmhouse and barn, created by Edward Parkhurst in 1880. Parkhurst was just 18 years old when he climbed into the barn and carved that image, including his name and date of birth: April 17, 1862.

“Edward was a machinist so he worked with his hands. But this was the earliest known work, of his, that was just for beauty,” Garrett said.

This piece of carved barn wood was rediscovered 100 years later when that wood was being collected so it could be repurposed for paneling in an art studio downtown.

Additional unique pieces in this exhibit include two acrylic paintings and two large, intricate rope sculptures on wood.

Both exhibits may be viewed during the Spring Opening Reception, scheduled for 5-7 p.m. on Friday, March 4, at Batavia Depot Museum. The Museum is located at 155 Houston St. The event is free and no registration is required. These exhibits will be on display through July.

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