By Kristen Miller
DASSEL, MN Though the traveling Smithsonian Exhibit may have left town, there is still an opportunity to learn about “unseen fences” in the Dassel area.
For six weeks, the Dassel Area Historical Society hosted the traveling exhibit “Between Fences,” capturing the various visible and invisible fences that have been built throughout America’s history.
The Smithsonian Exhibit has since been packed up and shipped to its next destination, but there is still an opportunity to view the museum’s “Unseen Fences” exhibit.
The exhibit showcases two examples of unseen fences in the Dassel area, with the first being the settlement pattern used by the various ethnic groups who came during the 1970s.
The second example highlighted in the exhibit is the division between farmers and town folk during the early 20th century.
Upon entering the exhibit, there is a map showing the pioneers who settled in the surrounding area and illustrating the unseen fences created by their ethnic backgrounds.
For example, in Darwin Township, the majority of the settlers in the area were Irish immigrants like James and Mary Vaughen Shelley, who came during the potato famine in Ireland around 1856.
Unseen fences in the form of economic, political, and educational barriers were also created between the farmers and town folk.
For example, while mainstreet merchants need the town and country folk to shop in their stores, many country folk preferred mail order catalogs, which took away business from local merchants.
The exhibit further explains these unseen fences and includes photos and historical artifacts.
Visitors can also play a guessing game as to what some of the items in the museum’s collection may have once been used for by the early settlers.
Unseen Fences will be open for the next several months for viewing.
‘Between Fences’ was a success
The exhibit brought in an estimated 2,200 visitors and was “tremendously successful,” according to Carolyn Holje, museum director.
Success also came with the help of 30 volunteers who were trained as docents for the exhibit, Holje explained.
There was also a lot of support from the Dassel-Cokato schools including a painted fence at the Mushroom Building created by high school art students to promote the exhibit.
DAHS receives 3M grant
A $7,000 grant from 3M provided an even greater experience for the local component of the Smithsonian Exhibit, according to Holje.
“It allowed us to bring Charlie McGuire to Cokato Elementary and Dassel Elementary,” she said.
The grant which the DAHS was invited to apply for also paid for bus transportation for middle school students to visit the Unseen Fences this past fall.
“We are so grateful for the opportunity to apply for the grant,” Holje said.