New exhibit at Montgomery Museum aims to tell stories through items rather than words or pictures

New River Valley News
Outside the Montgomery Museum in Christiansburg

CHRISTIANSBURG, Va. (WFXR) — Inside of a room at the Montgomery Museum, just beyond Downtown Christiansburg, are items that span the 245 years of the county’s history.

“This exhibit tries to tell the entire breadth of Montgomery County’s history in only 45 objects,” said museum Curator Sherry Wyatt.

Wyatt got the idea from the Valentine Museum in Richmond, telling stories with objects rather than photos or the written word.

Curator, Sherry Wyatt

“Look at the objects because so often those (objects) have the opportunity to tell us about people who did not leave written words, who did not leave texts or letters or photographs,” Wyatt said. “That gets to a segment of society that sometimes is overlooked, and it’s certainly true with Black history.”

The county’s Black history, according to Wyatt, is somewhat lost during the time of slaves, with only one oral history taken in the 1930s as the only first-hand account of slave life in the county.

The 1850s coverlet in the exhibit

All we have, now, are items like a coverlet that belonged to the Trigg family, white slave owners, in 1850 that was hand-woven by a slave woman.

“That much of the story was preserved, but her name did not come down as part of the story. We don’t know her name,” Wyatt said. “And so, we’re still in the process of trying to research the public records to find out what the slaves… what their names were and if we’re able to discover who made that coverlet.”

There are also bricks from the very building the exhibit sits in that were made and possibly laid by slave hands.

More modern items are also on display, such as the police uniform of Nathaniel L. Bishop.

Bishop’s CPD uniform

“He was the first African-American to be on the Christiansburg police force, and that was in 1975,” Wyatt pointed out.

The museum curator says it’s the continued research into items like this that excites her on what more she can tell visitors on the history of Montgomery County.

“To be able to bring these out… that’s really quite exciting for us,” she said. “We’re just thrilled to be able to reach audiences with them.”

While Black history is an important part of the exhibit, it is only part.

Wyatt says the exhibit’s intent is to give a story to the overlooked groups over the course of the county’s history, such as members of the LGBTQ community and women.

The exhibit will be up until Feb. 2, 2022.

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