April 28 - October 21, 2018
Dive into some of the Kalamazoo Valley Museum’s rarely-seen collections as the story of Kalamazoo unfolds one letter at a time. Kalamazoo A – Z features artifacts and images from the Museum's permanent collection, most of which have never been exhibited. Visitors will have a chance to explore a thought-provoking array of objects—from advertisements to Zoa Phora products. It is not often that a bassinet is exhibited next to a cash register—this emphasis on material culture presents a unique opportunity to experience Kalamazoo's history.
Material culture refers to the physical objects that people use to define their culture. Museums often use this approach to tell stories and explore the relationship between people and the objects they create. The Kalamazoo Valley Museum’s original collection dates from an 1881 donation of rocks and fossil specimens accepted by the Kalamazoo Board of Education as “the beginning of a new museum.” Since then, the collections have grown to approximately 55,000 artifacts, documents, and images. Like most museums, the Kalamazoo Valley Museum has only a fraction of its collection on display at any given time. The goal of Kalamazoo A – Z is to bring out rarely-seen parts of the collection to demonstrate the depth and complexity of the experiences of those who have lived here.
In the mid and early 1900s, donations to the collection reflected what prominent members of the community felt were important enough to preserve in a museum. This resulted in an eclectic collection that the Museum has refined over the last twenty years in keeping with current museum professional standards. Today, staff follows set guidelines when deciding whether or not to officially accept new items. The criteria is largely based on whether the materials will aid in understanding of the historical context in which the Southwest Michigan region has developed. This includes items that were made in the area or used by area residents and items that represent cultures which are currently underrepresented in the collection.