EVANSVILLE, Ind. — This year, we’ve all dealt with being walled away from normal parts of our lives; we’ve felt the acute pain of being unable to visit loved ones and the mild but constant discomfort of really needing a haircut.

The situation is unprecedented in modern America. Everyone reacts to difficulties in different ways, and to help people process and create a snapshot of an exceptional (or exceptionally bad) year, the Evansville Museum has curated an exhibition called Life in Isolation: The Coronavirus.

A bench on the Newburgh, Indiana riverfront marked with do-not-cross tape in March, 2020. (Photo: Photo courtesy of The Evansville Museum of Arts, Science and History)

Museum staff began collecting pieces and photographs on March 17 and continued until the museum reopened in early July.

“The exhibit came together with the idea of contemporaneous collecting during a time of trial,” Executive Director Mary Bower said. “We wanted to take a picture of what is happening at this time, documenting how people deal with loss or challenges.”

In 2018, the Museum’s Virginia G. Schroeder Curator of Art Tory Schendel Cox was inspired by a panel presentation titled “It Could Happen to You: How to Respond in the Face of Tragedy,” which included the director of the 9/11 Memorial & Museum, witnesses who had been present at the Kent State shooting in 1970 and others.

“It was their reflection and testimonies of why, when faced with tragedy, we reflect and process through tangible memorials and how that gives more reconciliation,” she said. “With that in mind, I started a little Facebook post and asked people to send me photos of what life in isolation looked like. It started with people I knew, and they encouraged their friends to share, and it grew across the country and abroad. There are examples from Africa, Egypt, Germany, the United Kingdom and other countries. Hundreds of people submitted content and that’s a lot of what you see in the gallery right now.”

Most of the photos in the exhibit were taken by Thomas Lonnberg, the Museum’s curator of history.

“As the curator of history here, I’ve benefitted from others who took photos during prior impactful events, like the flood of 1937 or World War II, showing how it looked — the city, individuals, workplaces,” he said. “I wanted to take some photographs around the Tri-State that showed how things were evolving in the early days of the pandemic. I simply went about with the camera getting signs of the times (often literally signs) and other things that were reflective of what was happening. Forty or 50 years from now the people succeeding us will have access to it.”

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The exhibit doesn’t begin with our current crisis but links human reactions to a pandemic to plague events of the past.

On the walls are reproductions of paintings created in 14th Century Europe during an outbreak of the bubonic plague, and there is a copy of Boccaccio’s Decameron, a book of tales told by a group of people isolating away from the plague at a villa in Italy.  

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A standard disposable protective health care worker’s gown on the left, and a cleanable/reusable one sewn by StitchWorks of Indianapolis on the right. StitchWorks provided 2500 gowns to Eskenazi Hospital in Indianapolis during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo: Aimee Blume / Courier & Press)

Moving into the modern era, one display illuminates the details of different types of face masks, and another highlights two protective gowns — one a basic blue disposable, the other a pretty yellow creation that would pair well with go-go boots.

“We had heard of the nonprofit StitchWorks in Indianapolis,” Cox said. “When Indy became a hot spot, StitchWorks was given a grant to mobilize seamstresses and create 2,500 gowns in two weeks for the medical staff at Eskenazi Hospital. They are still working with stitch workers so they can make more again if necessary.”

Curator of Education Karen Malone and Director of Science Experiences Mitch Luman also jumped on board to provide content for the exhibit.

“COVID is also a shared experience, and this was shared amongst the curatorial staff and beyond that,” Cox said. “Many people have said that this archive and exhibition has helped them process because it has a face, it has a persona, and it’s OK to feel vulnerable and also feel hope.”

The Evansville Museum was an original member of a larger collaboration between over 80 curators who are growing a giant archive called “A Journal of the Plague Year: An Archive of COVID-19,” documenting the pandemic as a whole on a single platform.

‘Object of the Day’

A concurrent exhibit at the Evansville Museum is “Object of the Day.” During the time the Museum was closed, one piece of the permanent collection was each day showcased and interpreted across all social media platforms. Those that received the most response are gathered for display in the “Object of the Day.” Pieces include paintings, sculptures, ceramics and more.

“Object of the Day” will run through Nov. 8.

If you go

What: Life in Isolation: The Coronavirus

Where: The Evansville Museum, 114 S.E. Riverside Drive

When: Through Sunday, Nov. 29

Museum Hours:

Thursday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m. (admission free from 5-8 p.m.)

Friday – Saturday 11 a.m.-5 p.m.

Sunday, Noon-5 p.m.

Admission other than Thursday evening $12 adult, $8 ages 4-17


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