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Building an exhibit can be a very long and involved process that can take anywhere from three to five years, especially when original research is required. “Compared to some other parts of the country, say Charleston, Williamsburg, New York, Philadelphia, so much research has already been done that you can almost pull a book off a shelf and find what you want to know,” she says. “In the lower Cape Fear, not so much. You have to go to original resources, like North Carolina State Archives in Raleigh, or North Carolina Chapel Hill or Duke University or other archives to find the information you are looking for to tell the story.” Like many curators, her natural wonder and curiosity and love of history began in childhood. “It seems like in my family growing up, we all talked about history, even if it was your own family genealogy,” she says. “Both my parents like old stuff. We’d go to antique shows, and I just always liked the objects and the story they can tell: Who owned this? How is it used? Where did they keep it? What did it mean?” When planning an exhibit, she always considers whether anyone else will find it particularly enthralling. “I do this for a living. So I find a lot of things fascinating that others may not,” she says. “I have to put myself in the visitors’ shoes.” For example, a picture of a hat doesn’t have quite the same appeal as the physical hat. “We are constantly evaluating, what tells a story, what would be fun to look at, intriguing, and yet is meaningful,” she says. With a towering replica of a prehistoric sloth fossil that was uncovered near Randall Parkway greeting visitors at the entrance, the uniqueness of the Cape Fear Region and its placement as both a port city and coastal landscape is evident. The 52,000 objects in the museum’s collection include items from Cape Fear Indians before recorded history, to a 1950s soapbox derby car sponsored by a local company, to iron farm equip-ment used in the 1920s. There are U.S. Coast Guard life preservers, and catalogue drawers con-taining souvenirs and parade swag from festivals. There is little the museum doesn’t collect if it is local. “If it happened here, was made here or used here, it’s a candidate to be in our collection,” Rowe beams. “Cape Fear Stories” is the anchor exhibit at Cape Fear Museum, telling the tale of the region from Native American times through the end of the 20th century through artifacts, images and models. 22 WBM february 2017


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