The next time that you’re in the Center Building at Minnetrista, stop in the Heritage Collection Gallery to see glass, and lots of it. There is the sublime—the beautiful paperweight made by St. Clair Glass Company—to the supremely useful—an insulator made by Hemingray Glass Company. What do these two very different pieces of glass have in common? Sand! Yep, sand. Plus a few other ingredients, such as limestone, and soda ash. So what determines the color of glass? Again, sand.
Working with the Minnetrista Heritage Collection I have the daily fun of interacting with “old stuff.” This stuff might be someone’s baby dress from the 1890s, a favorite cereal bowl (admit it, you have one in your own kitchen), or one of the first ball jars made in Muncie. Now, I realize this might not sound all that exciting to everyone. Imagine this, however. Each of these items is a portal to a different time and place. Just like a good book, that cereal bowl may have a unique story to tell. What if that bowl held one of the first pours of a new product in 1916—Kellogg’s All Bran. Holding the bowl you could imagine how hungry stomachs were tamed. You could almost feel the crunch of the cereal in your teeth. And you might envision a family moving through their morning routine just as your family does today.
On March 15, 1909, a spectacle for the eyes graced Oxford Street in London. A grand building decked in laurel and flags stood ready to receive its first visitors. At 9:00 a.m., a bugle sounded and the doors of Selfridges department store were thrown open. Thousands of shoppers, ready to inspect the new store and its merchandise poured in.
With popular magazines like Elle Decor stocked near the checkout line and design blogs available at the tap of a screen, recommendations for home decoration are never in short supply. This year House Beautiful predicts that pendant lights, pedestals, and traditional tableware will be all the rage. A century ago, art pottery found itself near the top of the list. More elaborate than utilitarian pottery, art potters focused on aesthetic qualities, putting beauty first and function second.
From now until the end of the school year, Minnetrista will bustle with school tours. Elementary students from throughout East Central Indiana will hunt habitats, discover gardens, and meet the creepy crawlies. School bus drivers will open the doors, and kids will spill out. Teachers will herd them, and a good time will be had by all.
When I give tours of the Heritage Collection storage area, I show examples of everything from Ball jars to artwork to furniture to clothing. More often than not, the piece of clothing that gets the most oohs and aahs, sometimes even from the men, is an evening gown and matching coat from the Jackie Kennedy era. Both pieces are made of heavy silk dyed a bright spring green. They are heavily beaded and sequined. The ensemble was tailored by George Chen & Co., Ltd. of Peninsula Court Kowloon, Hong Kong.
When Phil Ball, of the “original” Ball family, passed away on February 4, 2016, Minnetrista lost another good friend. He and his wife Esther, who died in January 2015, donated money to the Annual Campaign and Endowment Fund, and artifacts to the Minnetrista Heritage Collection. More than that, though, they gave of themselves.
Minnetrista lost a dear friend when Bill Mann passed away on New Year’s Day. Bill was a Minnetrista fixture from the time he became property manager to the most recent Farmers Market days. He greeted everyone with a wide smile, a firm handshake, and often, a big bear hug.
For many in Muncie, a wonderful tradition was viewing the Christmas windows at McKinley Junior High School. The school, located next to the Muncie Fieldhouse on North Walnut Street, was built in the late 1930s. It had a large arched window in the façade that faced North Walnut. Starting in 1939, that window was decorated by the students each Christmas.
I’ve mentioned former curator of business and industry, Dick Cole, on several occasions in this blog. While at Minnetrista, he worked extensively with the Ball company and family collections, but he often ventured into other subjects. He wrote the following story about Robert Patterson, a little remembered but obviously accomplished Muncie citizen.